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The Importance of Debriefing for High-Performance Organizations

by Jay Palace on July 1, 2020


The final debrief is the most critical part of any offsite or leadership development program. As I’ve seen many times through GEL experiences, debriefing leads teams to discover key insights and strengthen their bonds. It is an opportunity for participants to connect their experience to their work and relationships.

Harnessing Insights through Reflection

George Santayana, a philosopher and novelist, makes the best argument for prioritizing debriefs:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Any time a group of people collaborate on a complex project, they learn important things about themselves and the team. Team members have an individual sense of what worked well, challenges that arose, and things that shouldn’t be repeated in subsequent projects.

While those insights are helpful on their own, in order for the entire project team and broader organization to benefit, they need to be shared. Teams that do not debrief may be destined to face the same problems and operate at the same speed on their next critical project, simply by not taking the time to communicate.

Successful debriefs contain “aha moments” for participants and should leave them with actionable takeaways for their next project. These moments can come from a remark by a peer, a facilitator sharing an observation about how the team works together, or even from the act of setting aside time to reflect.

No matter how takeaways happen, in-depth, open conversation helps teams grow. Without reserving this time, it becomes all too easy for individuals to either forget or, even worse, not fully realize the valuable insights gained from their experience. While it is certainly tempting to give everyone’s brain a rest, especially after an intense day of sailing or working with Army Rangers, failing to debrief robs participants of the opportunity for the greatest impact.

GEL is so committed to debriefs that we built them into our experiential program design, setting aside discussion time during short, iterative challenges throughout the day, then creating space for a fully customized debrief once an experience is complete. By taking the time to understand your company’s objectives, we can tailor both your team’s experience and debrief to focus on your goals and achieve lasting results.

The bottom line is that everyone, especially high-performance teams, needs to debrief to maintain and enhance performance. Invest in your team’s continued development by encouraging them to reflect, strengthen relationships, and gain the insights needed to make your next project a success.

To learn more about GEL’s debriefing models and how you can use them with your team, download our resource, Using Past Performance for Future Success: After-Action Reviews for Business Leaders.

Download After Action Reviews for Business Leaders


Putting Debriefing to Use: Why High-Performance Organizations Must Reflect on Their COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented time in our history. Corporations across the country are adapting business plans and general operations to best serve their teams and community.

Similarly to how the military relies on regular debriefing to assess and enhance its performance in times of crisis, companies around the world should now be reflecting on their response over the last few months. Doing so is critical to ensuring teams and leaders are equipped not just for continued response to the current health emergency, but to use the lessons learned to prepare for future unpredictable situations as well.

As a starting point, consider posing the following questions to your organization’s leadership:

  • What changes were made and why? Consider both large-scale operational changes and individual process-oriented changes.
  • How were the changes enacted organization-wide, team-by-team, and individually?
  • What challenges and successes were experienced as a result?

While it may be tempting to move past a crisis as quickly as possible, failing to set aside time to debrief deprives leaders of important learning opportunities. Invest in your team’s continued development by encouraging them to reflect and gain the insights needed to excel as leaders, as a company, and as a community.

Topics: debrief, high-performance