debriefing is important

Recently, Reka and I facilitated our first offsite couples retreat. We learned that we have huge opportunities for improvement; however, for the most part, it was a spectacular experience. Last night, the two of us sat on our back deck, ate dinner, and started the first day of a multi-day debrief. Sometimes, I call this process a “postmortem” examination. Whatever you call it, taking the time to review what worked, what didn’t, and what can be done better for the next time has tremendous value.

Reka, still excited from the weekend, wanted to dive right in. I love the idea of her being more engaged in the process and owning what it will look like in its next iteration. But, for this review, our start was a bit clunky. Reka immediately focused on the specifics and tactics. Though they definitely had value, we found ourselves stumbling a bit. Frustrated, Reka asked me to offer some suggestions. 

I realized that this might be the first time Reka had participated in a debrief like this, and that she did not think the same as me. Even though I may be wired to dig in, question, and be curious about what worked and what didn’t, others may not be wired that way. With that in mind, I suggested we start by looking at it from the 60,000-foot level then slowly zoom in to the specific tactics. To do this, we both took about 10 minutes and wrote our answers to these three questions:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What can we do better next time?

The intention was to have a little celebration, put all options on the table, and really step back to consider these three questions. Of course, these questions led to many more questions, such as:

  • Did we help our participants?
  • How did we work together?
  • Was this fun?
  • What can I do better?
  • Where can I let go?
  • Is this the highest and best use of our time?
  • What could we have done better to prepare?
  • Was the flow right?
  • How can we simplify it?
  • How can we scale it?
  • Should we change the flow? If so, how?
  • Where should we do this?

…and on and on. The point is this, the initial questions acted as a prompt, starting from the 60,000-foot level to help us to test our hypotheses. From here, we had a different question at each level, with every question helping us to verify that we were on the right track; this then provides a starting point to dig into the next level. We did this step by step, level by level, until we reached the very specific details – right down to “bring more fruit for snacks”.

It sounds rather simple, but people often want to dive into the details first. Start high, answer the questions that arise on that level, and then proceed to the next level.

Starting high, we realized that our three biggest victories were:

  • Reka and I work well together and it was fun
  • Our structured process works and helped the participants
  • The people we worked with became even closer friends and will be for life (We feel very fortunate to be a part of this!)

These were our top three take-aways; everything else ends up being tactics. They are important details, but details nonetheless. Beginning with these helped us to start high and drill our way down.

Based on the initial discussion we had after our first night of the debrief, we decided to shift some things. Reka is reworking the agenda, the workbook, and the flow of the entire retreat. I am digging in to improve the exercises that were a little clunky, and we are both documenting the process so we can use it again in the future.

The next retreat will take much less to prepare for, as we’ll be able to use the info we’re documenting now to save even more time. We believe this will assist us in improving and revamping the material, presentation, and process for the next retreat. And when that retreat is over, we will do another debrief…and so on and so on.

So, the next time you have an event that took a great deal of preparation, remember that it’s the debrief and the lessons learned that often hold the greatest value.

Are you interested in learning more about the debrief process? Need some guidance with digging in? We can help! Contact us today to find out how.

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