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Debrief? "Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”

Debrief? ”Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”

By Joel “Thor” Neeb    |    President – Afterburner

Agile and Scrum Conference 2017

Catch Thor’s presentation, “Bridging the Gap with Agile,” at the virtual Agile and Scrum conference on May 4th.

We conducted a Debrief after every one of the more than 2500 Missions I flew as a fighter pilot and trainer pilot. We would discuss what went well, what didn’t, and more importantly, how we would improve our team execution next time.

These Debriefs were critical to developing the skills of our younger pilots and creating a high performing team that could fly in coordinated formation faster than the speed of sound.

But Debriefs are just for fighter pilots and battlefield soldiers, right? After all, your corporate team doesn’t Debrief and they’re doing just fine.

Well, leading academic research shows that you can’t afford not to Debrief.

In their article for Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society titled “Do Team and Individual Debriefs Enhance Performance?” Dr. Scott Tannenbaum and Dr. Chris Cerasoli analyzed more than 40 different independent research projects on the power of conducting Debriefs.

In their giant meta-analysis they arrived at the following conclusions:

  • Rudimentary Debriefs increased team effectiveness by up to 25% on the next project
  • Structured Debriefs increased team effectiveness by up to 38% on the next project
  • Having a third-party facilitate the Debrief increased team effectiveness by an additional 27%

So, what could Debriefs do for an organization? Let’s do the math.

There’s an eye-opening study that’s appeared in Harvard Business Review articles that states that only 33% of corporate America’s projects are completed on time, in scope, and in budget. I know, I know – that doesn’t apply to your company, you’re pulling up the average. So let’s start off by saying that you’re completing a whopping 60% of your corporate Missions. And let’s say that even though you’re not Debriefing, your teams still learn from the school of hard knocks and improve by an incredible 5% each time they tackle a project together. Here’s how their Mission effectiveness would improve over time:

Project 1
Project 2
Project 3
Probability of Mission Success

So, 5% more efficiency each time means you’ll have a 64% chance of success after three iterations of performing together as a team (note that we don’t increase effectiveness by 5% each time – we have 5% less chance of failure). Not too shabby, right? You’ve gelled together a bit as a team, new team members have gained a little experience, and you’ve increased your efficiency a bit.

But what would our team effectiveness look like if we had conducted a structured Debrief that was facilitated by a third party?

Project 1
Project 2
Project 3
Probability of Mission Success

The team that conducts structured, 3rd party-facilitated Debriefs is 25% more effective after three project iterations together and enjoys an 85% success rate on their third Mission.

Stop and look at those numbers again – what would that level of improvement mean for your team performance, your organizational culture, or your company in general?

“But,” you say, “Are those study statistics really repeatable in practice?”

They are. With our last client, a tech giant based out of Silicon Valley, our team at Afterburner supported more than 50 Missions through iterations of Plan-Brief-Execute-Debrief, and 91% of them were successful.

“But,” you say, “Debriefing takes time.” And that’s the one resource you’re running short on.

In his groundbreaking book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey relayed an oft-repeated story. In it he described two lumberjacks that were feverishly sawing away at a tree with a two-man saw. They were making little progress because their saw was dull and ineffective. When asked by a passerby why they didn’t stop to sharpen their saw, the lumberjacks replied “We can’t stop to sharpen the saw! We’re too busy sawing!”

When’s the last time your team sharpened their saw?

In the two decades that Afterburner Inc. has been in existence we’ve asked more than 3 million people at over 5,000 of our client companies to rate their own organization’s commitment to Debriefing. Unsurprisingly, the data for the past 20 years shows that corporate America rates itself about a 3 out of 10 on Debriefing. In other words, few companies Debrief, and even fewer do it well. We believe that’s because few companies know just how impactful Debriefing would be for their team or organization.

But, you don’t have the time to Debrief, right? Hopefully your competition doesn’t either!

More insights await at the virtual Agile and Scrum conference, going live on May 4th. 5 keynotes and 20 sessions to choose from, plus networking and PDUs/SEU®s.

About the Author

Joel “Thor” Neeb is the President of Afterburner, a group of fighter pilots, Navy SEALs and other SpecOps members that leverages the leadership development principles of elite military teams to help corporations achieve their Strategic Objectives. Contact Afterburner for a free consult on how to conduct a structured Debrief with one of their Debriefing experts.

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