The dust is settling. Your team finished the project, at least for now. You gather in your conference room for a debriefing of what went wrong… After all, that is the best way to improve performance next time… Or is it? Enter the Facilitated Debrief.
Team Leadership and Debriefing Failures
If you only focus on what went wrong, even in a “lets fix this next time” way, your team won’t improve as much as it could. Focusing on faults, failures and deficiencies alone is like trying to coach basketball by explaining what plays not to run. It is a failure of leadership that results in poor team performance and that disables continual improvement.
That doesn’t mean leaders should not debrief their teams after an event, or talk about what should be better. But, you need to handle that that debrief in the right way to be productive.
One of the biggest responsibilities of a leader, and keys to leading well, is facilitating continuous improvement. Research indicates that well conducted facilitated debriefs are one of the best ways to do so. Simply put, if you want to win more as a team, then use a structured facilitated debrief after every major project.
Facilitated debriefs are appropriate after many events from the completion of a large project to board meetings just to name a few.
What is a Facilitated Debrief?
Facilitated debriefs are different than typical debriefs. “Facilitated” means that the leader focuses on asking the whole team “what, why, and how” questions. And the whole team analyzes the project outcome.
When leading a facilitated debrief, the leader does not offer his or her evaluation of the situation or recommendations until after the team has offered theirs. In fact, you know you are doing it right when your team members do most of the talking, and even the typically quiet team members start to offer effective recommendations without a direct invitation.
Let me reiterate that:
In a facilitated debrief, the team evaluates the team. The team leader simply facilitates that evaluation.
The Benefits of a Facilitated Debrief
Teams who master facilitated debriefs:
- Have shared definitions of what effective teamwork is.
- Leverage individual performance strengths effectively.
- Admit and correct for errors before they contribute to disasters.
- Demonstrate focused improvement on previously set goals.
- Report increased confidence in their team.
- Generalize lessons learned to new performance situations.
Leading a Facilitated Debrief
The goal of a facilitated debrief is to have team members discuss what went right and wrong. The team should also discuss how individual actions affected other team members, and the final project outcome.
Facilitated debriefs work best when the leader encourages team members to interact well.
Team members should address each other directly and the team as a whole. Your ability to continue to learn and self-correct your team depends on establishing a safe learning climate. To do this, you will need to remember that titles and status are irrelevant during debriefs, and that you must participate and encourage others to do so.
The debrief should analyze why situations happened (good or bad), seeking the root cause. Think about what events contributed to the final outcome and what behaviors influenced those events. Offer behavioral examples for discussion by the team.
What to Discuss
- Discuss how different individual team members were affected by other’s actions.
What did they do that helped you? What information or help do you wish you were given by others?
- Discuss what each team member was thinking.
Explain your rationale for doing or not doing something. What was your understanding of what was happening at the time and how was that accurate and inaccurate?
- Discuss what went well and why.
What did the team do right that it should keep doing?
- Discuss what could be improved and how.
What could be done differently to make teamwork easier in similar situations next time?
- Discuss what factors enabled or impeded success.
What obstacles to teamwork were inherent in the situation? How could the team work around these in the future? What situational factors contributed to the team’s success and how could the team leverage these in similar future situations? Are there tools to improve the teams performance?
- Discuss how to apply the team’s learning to future projects.
Concentrate on finding two to three new things you can do or tools you can use to ensure you work well on teams tomorrow in any situation.
Learning to Lead a Facilitated Debrief
A short example with a team of four floor nurses:
Facilitator/ Charge Nurse asks, “Was there a time when anyone felt like they didn’t have the right information at the right moment?”
Nurse 1,”At the start of the shift, I wasn’t entirely clear on the monitoring orders for two of my patients. Combing through their charts took my head out of game for several minutes while a transfer was arriving.”
Nurse 2, “Some complications with the transfer definitely distracted me for a while, too. Jay (Nurse 3) proactively volunteered to keep eyes on two of my patients, and therefore gave me the head space I needed to settle our transfer.”
Nurse 1, “That was great, because I was definitely too distracted to know what was going on.”
Facilitator, “This will happen again tomorrow. What helped today that we can do again to make things go smoothly despite the chaos tomorrow?”
Nurse 3, “Maybe we could ask the outgoing shift to bullet main orders for us on the lounge white board? This would give us a clear starting point. Then, we could help each other and chase down doctors for clarifications as needed.”
Nurse 2, “And we can play zone defense, like Jay and I did today. This will give one of us more time to focus on settling in a complicated transfer.”
Facilitated debriefs take a little practice to master. Especially on a critical project, emotions can run high. With strong leadership, a little teamwork training to support them, and a consistent structure they are a powerful leadership tool. They will help you build a more engaged and talented team.
An executive coach can train you to conduct facilitated debriefs with your team as well as many other team leadership skills. Schedule a free consult with one of our career coaches and get started today.