A team of 20 customer service representatives recently got together for a half day retreat. This was a Helpdesk Team that often took the brunt of their company’s system issues. They were the first line of response to the intense technology issues that emerged as their company responded to the pandemic and transitioned to remote work in March of 2020.
The purpose of the retreat was to take a break and identify ways to continue providing high levels of service under significant workload and stress.
The first activity of the retreat was simple. They were tasked to discuss three questions:
What successes have you experienced or witnessed firsthand in the last 3 months?
What happened that made it a success?
What was the impact of that success?
The group was quiet at first but after 10 minutes, the atmosphere relaxed, and the volume went up with appreciative banter. There were smiles and laughing, nods and affirmations.
To conclude the exercise, the facilitator simply asked the group: What was this experience like?
Responses ranged from “It was great!” and “Really fun!” to “I had forgotten about a few of them.” and “I had no idea some of this stuff happened.”
The facilitator then asked: How often do you discuss success as a team?
The first to respond was the boss. She said “Um, never? I don’t think we’ve ever done this. We are constantly reviewing problems and putting out fires. We haven’t spent any time acknowledging our success, let alone teasing out what exactly we did that made it successful.” Her team agreed.
The facilitator high-lighted that there isn’t anything wrong with addressing issues and fires. Their current way of work was fine, but it was off-balance. The team was missing out on applying the strategies that were found in their success.
They spent the remainder of the retreat identifying patterns in their accomplishments and then looked for ways to apply those patterns to their challenges.
By the end of the retreat, the team recognized that continuing to debrief in a balanced way was needed. They discussed when the debriefs would take place and how they would be conducted. The team didn’t solve for everything at the retreat, but they established a new way of working that was productive, gratifying, and motivating.
How often at work are you a part of regular, balanced discussions that address what went well, what didn’t, and why? What about for yourself? How often do you reflect on your accomplishments and strengths?
A debrief or feedback session is planned time to hold a discussion after something has been completed. This can take place the last 10 minutes of a meeting or at the conclusion of a project. Make sure the following takes place:
Advanced notice - The best debriefs take place when everyone is prepared to have the discussion. Surprise feedback sessions rarely yield valuable results. Give everyone a heads-up that you will discuss successes, failures, missed opportunities, and unexpected wins.
Established schedule – Some teams dedicate the last Friday of every month to debrief. A colleague of mine holds daily huddles at 2pm. Other teams do quarterly reviews. The point is the have a regular routine.
For additional tips and techniques for holding team debriefs, see Team Performance: Routine Debriefs
This is the individual approach to debriefs. Reflection is essentially thinking. However, it is deeper than that and the benefits are robust. Research has shown that when employees spent 15 minutes every day thinking about lessons learned, they performed better over time. (Harvard Business Review).
There are three important aspects of performance enhancing reflection.
Routine. This means, there is a regular time when the reflection takes place. Maybe at the end of the week or daily on the commute home.
Specific questions. There are questions that prompt the reflection such as “When was I at my best today?” or “How was I feeling and what impact did that have on my performance?” Reflection questions go deeper, beyond superficial thinking about work. Some people ask the same questions each time, others mix it up.
Write it down. Our memory is better when we put pen to paper. Not only does our brain retain information better and longer when we hand write (pbs.org) but we have a place to go back to that reminds us of our insight, learning, and intentions.
To help you develop a practice of reflecting (and get access to a worksheet to help you get started), read Reflection: What it is and how to begin.
And remember – reflection and debriefing are not just examining the challenges, struggles, and places to improve – it’s also about celebrating accomplishments and examining successes. When we reflect on our success, we’re not resting on our laurels, instead, we are specifically thinking about why we were successful, and what steps we can take to continue to be successful or heighten performance even more.
If you or your team don’t yet have a practice of conducting balanced debriefs or reflecting, you might be missing out on recognizing processes, approaches, thoughts, and behaviors that could take your performance to the next level.
It’s time to get started.
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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 and coaching.
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