Debriefs (aka “after-action reviews”) are surprisingly effective when done right.
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Does a low-cost, efficient and effective intervention that improves team and individual performance in an organisation sound too good to be true?
Debriefs (or “after-action reviews”) can improve team and individual performance in organisations by around 25%, according to a meta-analysis (a study of studies).
The meta-analysis looked at 30 previous scientific studies of debriefs.
The study found average improvements of 20% – 25% for teams and individuals.
Even excluding the three studies with the largest effect sizes still gave an average improvement of 21%.
Debriefs performed with the explicit intent of improving team performance improved performance by 38%.
The authors said:
Overall, the he efficacy of debriefs appears quite robust. Effect sizes averaged in the range of 20% to 26%, showing similar results across teams and individuals, across simulated and real settings, for within- or between-group control designs, and for medical and non-medical participants.
The average debrief was around 18 mins, suggesting a cost-effective and simple intervention.
Other key findings from the study were that:
- Facilitated debriefs were around 3x more effective than unfacilitated debriefs;
- Structured debriefs appear more effective than unstructured debriefs; and
- Multimedia aids (e.g. video recordings) made no meaningful improvement to debrief effectiveness
The authors commented:
Debriefs have become increasingly common, as they are a relatively low-cost intervention. However, until now, the efficacy of debriefs had not been validated in a quantitative, integrated manner.
Our findings show that debriefs yield 20% to 25% average improvements, which can be boosted by properly aligning how debriefs are conducted and perhaps through structure and effective facilitation.
So what does a proper debrief look like anyhow?
Here’s a useful summary from the study of what is and isn’t a debrief.
Source: (Tannenbaum et. al., 2013)
So where could you use a debrief to improve performance?
The authors advise:
Given their efficacy, we would suggest that debriefing should be a standard part of any team training intervention that incorporates a simulated team experience.
In such cases, to promote alignment, the debrief should involve the full team, focus on team improvements, and assess effectiveness with team-level performance measures.
Basically, debriefing could be used anywhere there is a specific performance episode to be examined.
- a team assignment;
- sales call;
- safety effort;
- project launch;
- patient case;
- service experience;
- product development; or
- a team meeting
The study was published in the journal
Image credit: firerescuemagazine.com