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Debrief Performance More Often

Updated: May 9

If there is one thing you can do this year to make a measured and positive impact on performance, it is to conduct routine debriefs. This can look like reflecting on your personal accomplishments, discussing team successes, or conducting a lessons learned session after the completion of a project. Here's why.


It’s all too common to get buried in or distracted by the day-to-day grind. This looks like emails steadily filling your inbox, unexpected requests from the boss, and problems or complaints from the team. In work environments like this, it’s easy to neglect the little successes and learnings you and the team have along the way. Yet, when you take the time to recognize and collect them, you can then see the powerful role they play in helping you achieve your goals, both as a team and as an individual. Not to mention the shot of positive vibes and feelings of accomplishment it generates.


Research confirms this. On an individual level, one study found that "employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect." At a group level, well-conducted debriefs can improve team effectiveness by 25%.


If you or your team often feel stressed and overwhelmed or feel stuck and indifferent about the work, then try debriefing more often. This means to reflect on and write down what’s working or what you’re learning. As a team, conduct debrief sessions to not only highlight and recognize the team’s effort but to also identify what can change to enhance team performance further.


Here are a few techniques you can try.


What am I learning?

This technique is especially helpful if you are in a job that you don’t like, or you are experiencing a time of high stress and/or frustration. In these circumstances, it can be hard to find the “good stuff”.  You may feel bogged down by irritations and annoyances.

Asking yourself the question “What am I learning?” helps direct your focus on teasing out small moments of progress, good decisions, boundaries set, or problems solved. Writing them down is especially helpful because the moments are no longer thoughts in your head, but they become real experiences that to remind yourself of later on.  


Some people use a journal for this exercise. Others may capture these notes in a Word document. The format doesn’t matter. Just doing it will get you the result.


Plus/Delta

This is a technique from Lean Methodology and is effective for group debriefs. It has a positive, productive tone and focuses on change-related improvement. Taking notes on a flipchart or shared document is helpful so that the ideas shared are documented for future reference.


The way to conduct the exercise is to simply ask “What went well and what could be changed for a better result next time?” Then, the team discusses, and someone takes notes. Here is a format:


The Plus side reveals what is going well. The triangle refers to Delta or the Greek symbol for change. This side captures the suggestions for change. Depending on the context and size of team, this exercise can take 15 minutes or two hours.

Another approach is to talk about “near misses” and “sloppy wins”. The language is somewhat playful and can feel like a safer way to talk about things that didn’t go well. For instance, I worked on a team that was tasked to implement an organizational policy by a certain date. The implementation date was met (Hooray, a win!) but the team did not fully understand the implications of the policy creating confusion and frustration for managers (sloppy execution.)  A Plus/Delta exercise is an opportunity to dive into why the execution was poor and correct it for future work.


Think/Pair/Share

This is a group technique and can be especially beneficial for teams with many people who avoid speaking up or for situations where people haven’t had advanced notice that their feedback is being solicited. (Most people offer better feedback when they’ve had a minute to think about it first.)


Here’s how it works. Inform the group or team that you’d like to debrief the work and get feedback. Be specific about what you want to learn from them. Then…

  • Think: Give them independent time to think and write down their opinions. This initial quiet time enables everyone to collect their thoughts and brainstorm independently. Introverts will especially appreciate it.

  • Pair:  Split the participants into pairs and provide another round of time for discussion. This will give extroverts the needed time to verbally process their ideas and the partners can weed out redundancies.

  • Share: Open the discussion to the large group for sharing. Because participants have been able to reflect independently and then share with a colleague, they are effectively “warmed up” for large group discussion. The feedback gathered at this stage is often very valuable.


The biggest challenge to conducting routine debriefs is carving out the time to do so. The best way to start is to just give it a try. If you want to do this individually, reserve time on your calendar and just give it a try. Answer the question, “What am I learning?” For team debriefs, share what you want to do with the team and give it a try as well. It will not only feel good, but you’ll likely enhance your performance as too.

 

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Until next time!


 

Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training, coaching, and professional development resources.

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