Lead Your Team Through an Efficient Project Debrief

Posted by Kristin Arnold on April 10, 2019

Extraordinary teams take the time to critique their work – particularly after a huge, important project.  Some call this an “after action report” or simply a project debrief.  The point is that the team reflects on what worked well and what could have been done differently.

In my experience, many leaders resist doing a debrief, especially when the project has been a hot mess.  After all, the project is behind us now (thankfully), and we just want to get back to “normal” business.

Leaders will tell me that it is because they don’t want it to turn into a bitch session.  What’s the benefit of kvetching about it?  But deep down, they might also be scared of what they might find out.

However, if you don’t invest the time to debrief what really happened, then you don’t have a snowball’s chance in getting better!

Here is my series of questions I have developed over the years to lead the team through a project debrief that helps capture what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, and recommendations for improvement.

  • What did you set out to achieve?
  • What was a successful project outcome?
  • Why was this project so important?
  • What was your initial plan to achieve this?
  • How did this change as you progressed?
  • What went well and why?
  • What surprised you?
  • What frustrated you?
  • What delighted you?
  • What did you not see coming?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What were the two or three key lessons you would share with others?
  • What are your recommendations for improvement?
  • Are there any lessons for you personally? OR What advice would you give yourself if you were to go back to where you were at the start of the project?
  • What should we have learned from this project a year from now?

At some point during the conversation, there will be a few stories that pop out that characterize or summarize their experience of working on the project.  Pay attention when that comes up, or at the appropriate time, you can ask, “Can you think of a story that summarizes your experience of work on this project?”  I find these stories are emotional and visual reminders of the work they accomplished together.

So, next time you are tempted to just put a pin in a project and move forward, ask your team these questions to improve their skills for the next project.

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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