How to Avoid Complacency [Part 2]: The BRIEF Meeting


Three weeks ago, we defined complacency as, “a self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” We also discussed how planning for Contingencies and Red Teaming the plan can keep your teams on the cutting edge. But now that we have the “perfect plan,” what comes next?

This is a question I often ask companies after we have discussed the Afterburner Six Step Planning® method. Almost every single time I ask that question, the audience responds with “Execute!” Nothing…. could be further from the truth.

Once a plan is complete or “close enough,” teams typically want to run out the door and begin executing. However, two days or two weeks into the project people are confused on who is doing what, what the priority is, and why they are doing this project anyway. They become frustrated, task saturated, and then complacent about their work.

The second phase in the Flawless Execution model is to BRIEF the plan. If you ask any fighter pilot after a mission, “How did they know what they were supposed to do?” they will answer that they flew the BRIEF. If you asked, “What did you brief?” They will simply answer that they Briefed the plan. Even though this a simple step, it is often missed.

The BRIEF is a laser-focused meeting, where the details of the plan are laid out. Actually, to call a Briefing a meeting does it an injustice. The BRIEF meeting is a one-way communication until the end.

In this phase of the Flawless Execution model, the leader:

B– Briefs the scenario. This is the “WHY?” we are doing this work.

R– Restates the Mission Objective so it’s clear in everyone’s mind.

I– Identifies the big Threats and Resources determined in the planning phase.

E– Execution. The Courses of Action. Who is going to do What tasks and by When?

F– And finally Flexibility and Contingencies. What could go wrong and how will we respond?

Once the BRIEF is completed, the leader will then ask for any questions for clarity. The purpose of the BRIEF is to ensure that every team member understands what their roles and responsibilities are and to create alignment. OH…and by the way…the BRIEF is supposed to be…brief.

My first flight in the military was on May 19th, 1994. My last flight was on August 13th, 2015. That’s over 21 years of flying and over 2800 hours of flight time. With all of that experience, you would think that my last flight would have been easy. Well, it wasn’t.

On my very last flight ever, my student, with only 50 hours of flight time in the F/A-18, flying in a different airplane, over a mile away, at 26,000 feet, lost all of his cabin pressurization. Without getting into the specifics, that’s really, really bad. However, we executed our briefed plan and handled the emergency without much trouble. The end result was two aircraft safe on ground at our base.

In the Debrief, the student could barely contain himself. Before we even started he exclaimed, “Sir, that went exactly how we Briefed it. We did everything exactly how you said it would go.” My response was simple, “Well, that’s why we BRIEF.”

The companies for which I’ve been a team building consultant over the past 12 years at Afterburner have found the BRIEF to be a valuable tool. It has improved their execution, eliminated confusion, and kept complacency at bay. Incorporate a laser focused BRIEF before your next project or business proposal and you’ll find that your execution will improve, your results will improve, and complacency will vanish.


Patrick “Lips” Houlahan has been involved with the start-up of two companies as and business development executive. The challenging experience of starting a business coupled with his vast knowledge of leading high performing has made Lips one of Afterburner’s most valued speakers. Lips regularly and with many of today’s leading corporations such as Verizon, GE, ExxonMobil, Medtronic, and H&R Block to name a few. Lips was an F/A-18 Hornet Instructor Pilot and flew the A-10 Warthog accumulating over 2800 hours of flight time.