After introducing a new technology, finishing a big project, or concluding a major meeting, many of us act on an impulse to move to the next thing on our list or go on vacation. But pivoting too quickly to “what’s next” denies you and your team the opportunity to learn and improve. The best sports teams, theatre companies, surgical units, and even the military have efficient ways to debrief performance, harvest lessons, and implement improvements after a project or event is wrapped. It’s called an After Action Review (AAR). Here’s how the AAR works:

An AAR is a structured conversation aimed at identifying what contributed to and what might have undermined the success or quality of a project. AAR’s give people a chance to share their views and ideas in an open forum while eliciting constructive, actionable feedback from those closest to the project.

Typically, an AAR conversation focuses on the following four questions:
* What went well and why? (+)
* What could have gone better and why? (-)
* What were the biggest surprises (good and bad)? (!)
* What would we do differently in the future? (△)

Here are seven tips for conducting an effective AAR:

1. Don’t let time elapse. Call the meeting as soon as possible after the project closes.
2. Invite the right people. Include project team members, clients, sponsors, etc.
3. Use a facilitator. This person ensures the conversation is focused, balanced, and specific.
4. Make it safe. Make everyone’s voice matter. Check your title at the door.
5. Set a no-blame rule. An AAR is about learning, not finger-pointing.
6. Write it all down. Make sure you capture everything on flip charts or post-its.
7. Share the insights. Distribute lessons learned to the team as well as other teams working on similar projects.

As a facilitator, I’ve seen AARs work well following product launches, conferences, disaster responses, and policy changes. What kinds of projects are you working on these days that might benefit from an after-action review?

Photo Credit: Rehman Chugthai

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