The US and Canadian armies (among others, I’m sure) are famous for its post-event after action review (AAR). Whether it’s a mission, a tactical maneuver, or just a patrol, the individuals involved meet immediately afterward to debrief on how it went and what they can learn for the next time. This goal is to quickly and consistently capture new learning and give the squad–both as a team and as individuals–instant feedback and a way to improve right away.
The four questions they ask are:
- What did we set out to do? (the objective)
- What actually happened? (the reality)
- Why did it happen? (root causes)
- What are we going to do next time? (application)
Look at these questions. They are focused. They are totally oriented toward solving a problem, capturing learning, and integrating its application, going forward. There’s no blame game, even in question #3.
The process of an AAR is revealing. It involves the full team. Soldiers are expected to contribute answers to the four questions. The principle here is that people learn better when they are actively involved in identifying problems and generating solutions. The commanding officer does less of the talking. It is timely and it is quick which can be critical especially in a fast-moving battlefield situation.
I see a powerful connection between AAR’s and one-on-one performance conversations during the year in civilian organizations. The four questions are perfect for when a manager sits with an employee to debrief a task done, progress on a project, or even overall performance to-date. And think about those times when the work environment is fast-paced, frenetic, and deadline driven…like in a battlefield–except without bullets and artillery shells flying. A quick debrief by the boss, on the fly, is often what’s needed.
Why not try it out?