Since October 2019, Australia has been through significant emergency events. Firstly large-scale bushfires swept across the country and now the worldwide COVID-19 situation has hit. Throughout these consecutive emergencies, services have continued to respond, supporting individuals, communities and organisations.

There are some lessons from emergency services and how they operate. One of these is debriefing. Debriefing is key to how you can get back to business and bring your team back together.

It’s widely documented why a debrief is important. It allows opportunity to reflect, consider what happened, identify improvements and then put a plan into action for the future. It also enables people to talk about their experiences, and supports wellbeing and connection. A debrief can give you insights to make a real difference in how you operate.

In past roles I have led and also participated in debriefs after emergency events. I’ve also implemented large scale changes taking the learnings and changing practices to support greater success in the future.

I’ve been reflecting on debriefs and the opportunity they provide to tap into lessons learned and co-curate a better future. If you do this well your organisation, your culture and your people will emerge positively. Employees are also far more likely to bounce back if it happens again. Debriefing enables you to co-curate your future allowing the best to be brought forward and things that didn’t work quite so well, to be left behind or recrafted.

Here’s a simple guide to conducting a great debrief (based on emergency management principles with a dose of mwah. humanity) to help you get back to business with a connected team.

Debrief Questions

Key questions to discuss:

  1. What did we plan to do?
    • Discuss what was planned. You might have had differing plans over different weeks. This is your opportunity to document quickly what the plans were at different points in time.
    • Some key topics you might discuss include:
      •  Communications
      • Wellbeing and Safety
      • Logistics/Systems
      • Policy/procedures
      • Culture
      • Governance
      • Reporting/recording
      • Document at an organisational/business, department and team level the plans, noting if you had a plan and also where there were no plans.
  2. What did we expect to happen?
    • This is about mapping what we’d planned to do and what we were expecting to occur
    • Document at an organisational/business level, department and team level.
  3. What actually happened?
    • This is where most of the conversation will occur and a key aspect of a debrief.
    • Ask what happened and discuss why.
    • This could be framed in an organisational vs operational perspective.
    • Capture what happened – this will be from individual perspectives primarily and allow each person to highlight their experience. It is a personal experience so be respectful of each individuals voice.
    • Confirm what policies/procedures/communications/arrangements were effective.
    • This is also an opportune time to validate, individual and team contributions at the broader organisational level. A thank you can go a long way in showing support to your team.
    • Be open in the conversation but importantly, it is not about playing a blame game. Keep personal politics away from the discussion.
  4. What can we do next time/in future?
    • Some of this will be captured in discussing what happened. It is important to move the group of people forward into lessons learned and forward-facing actions.
    • What went well and why?
    • What should we avoid doing in the future?
    • Document this into a quick and simple plan and use it to keep driving forwards.

The ‘how to’ guide to debriefing humanly

  • Keep a debrief simple. Don’t overdo it with fancy presentations and buzz words. A debrief is about allowing each voice to express their experience. Follow the 4 key questions.
  • If you can, use a white board to visibly show discussion topics and allow time for people to document their thoughts. Link key aspects together to identify key themes or areas that need improvement.
  • Allow ample time to go through the questions. Outline timings at the beginning of the discussion so you don’t lose track and miss out on discussing the last questions. Those are the ones are where the real learnings come from and are the opportunity to take your team forwards together.
  • Everyone has had an individual experience. It is really important to both allow everyone to have a voice but also respect their personal experience. We each experience things differently. The value of a debrief is capturing this concisely and respectfully and translating them into tangible actions that will make a difference for the future.
  • The role of the facilitator is as a curator of the conversation, guiding the discussions openly and capturing those insights that play a huge part in moving forwards.

A good debrief will be your opportunity to draw out the best, leave the aspects that didn’t work behind and co-curate your future proactively.  We all want to get back to business and this can be done really effectively with debriefing to help co-curate your future and keep your team connected.