February 15, 2018

The Art of Team Debriefing: 4 Questions to Ask After Every Project

Egos. Deadlines. Pressure to succeed. Group projects can be nightmares.Leading teams can be challenging, too.No matter the results, the last thing you probably want to do is conduct an autopsy of a grueling project after it’s completed. But that’s exactly what you should do if you want to learn how to work more efficiently as a team.Start by conducting a team debrief after any major project, marketing campaign or strategic milestone. Not only will it help you improve your process for next time, it will demonstrate how much you, as a leader, value your team’s perspective.

The Team Debrief

Call it a debrief, retrospective, analysis, or whatever makes sense to you. As long as you hold a meeting that includes every team member who had a significant role in the project, you’re good.Think of this opportunity as primary research about the way your organization operates. The goal is to talk about what worked and what didn’t. That way, you can learn from it all.

How it Works

There are a million things to consider when getting your team together for a debrief. Here are two important things to keep in mind before you begin.

  1. Time: Depending on the size and significance of the project, you may want to set aside anywhere from one to four hours to hold the debrief. But don’t just spring a random meeting on people.

Surprises are not a great way to evoke radical candor. Instead, remind your team at the beginning of each engagement that you’ll be hosting a debrief after it’s complete. Be consistent and you’ll start to build a culture of learning and improvement.

  1. Vibe: Before the meeting begins, make sure everyone understands that this will not be a forum for complaining. It should be an open, honest session with a goal of making the team better.

Attitude is a reflection of leadership. Make sure to set a confident but approachable tone for the discussion. If you don’t, people won’t talk and you won’t actually get to the root of any problems.

Four Questions to Ask Your Team

There’s no perfect way to guide the discussion, but it helps to have some guideposts in place. Here are the four essential questions you can use to guide your first debrief. Feel free to evolve this list, based on your own team and situation.

  1. Did we achieve our objective?

Don’t gloss over this one. Revisiting the objective reminds your team how important it is for clear goals to be set in the first place. It also shows how much everyone should care about meeting expectations.If you exceeded your goals, celebrate that for a moment. Your team will appreciate the encouragement. If you didn’t, acknowledge it. Discuss the reasons why that might have happened. Often, falling short is a result of the goal not being S.M.A.R.T. from the very beginning.As the leader, that’s on you to improve upon for next time.

  1. What did we do right?

It’s easy to talk about the things that went wrong. But it’s just as important to recognize what’s not broken. Focusing on the positives will excite your team and keep them optimistic.Be sure to reiterate the steps in your plan that you must continue to do to be successful.

  1. What did we do wrong?

Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”No matter how diligently you prepare, there will always be unforeseeable circumstances with any project. However, it’s important to determine if some of those unexpected hiccups could have been anticipated or prevented.Ironically, sometimes the best plan moving forward is to stop doing something.

  1. What should we do next time?

This last question is critical. It allows you to put your learnings into action.At the end of the debriefing, make sure your team has codified the updated process and improvements. This should go beyond brainstorming.The new framework needs to be put on paper and agreed upon in the room so that everyone is clear on the approach to starting future projects.

Take the Lead

Your team looks to you for guidance, so make sure you give it to them with specificity.One of the best ways to ensure future success is to hold team debriefings after major projects are complete. This will allow you to develop more effective and efficient project plans in the future.

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