[Webinar] OPERATION DEBRIEF: The Secret Weapon of High-Performing Ops Teams

Written by:
David "Finch" Guenthner

OPERATION DEBRIEF: The Secret Weapon of High Performing Ops Teams

Without a holistic solution to optimize mission and project execution, no group will ever become a high-performing team. Even the best tactical training tools and techniques will soon be forgotten if you do not optimize execution at every level.

In this webinar, David “Finch” Guenthner and guest Milton Bourque share examples and discuss what makes a high-performing team possible and successful.


At Afterburner, our team of current and former elite military professionals understand the unique challenges of developing and leading high-performing operations teams. That’s why we’ve spent the last two decades refining and augmenting the techniques of those elite military teams we were a part of to your front-line teams via a simple, scalable methodology called Flawless Execution.

Flawless Execution is a proven performance improvement methodology that equips teams with an operational framework to develop leaders with a mission-first, team always mentality. It is much more than a tactical execution improvement tool. Flawless Execution is a comprehensive approach to optimizing tactical and strategic execution at any level by improving communication, collaboration, and teamwork. We know there is one secret weapon every high-performing team knows about and is committed to using.

This secret weapon is much more than just a tactical training tool. It is a proven process, in combat and in business, that high-performing teams across the globe are using. It is a process, a culture, a mentality of Debriefing to share Lessons Learned across teams and organizations – after every single iteration of every single level of execution.

What is a High-Performing Team?

When you hear the term “High-Performing Team,” what do you envision?

1. Special Forces Teams preparing for an operation?
2. Football teams methodically marching down the field during the Super Bowl?
3. Surgical teams executing a lengthy and complicated procedure?

As an Associate Partner at Afterburner, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many high-performing teams, including all three of those listed above. Although they are all excellent, there is one team that performs at a level that is almost unimaginable to the rest of the world – the crew of a United States Naval Aircraft Carrier.

A Naval Aircraft Carrier is nothing like any other aircraft carrier. It is a massive ship – a floating city. There are over 5,000 people aboard the aircraft carrier (that’s a lot of people!) and they are launching out airplanes every 60 seconds.

Despite an average age of just 19 years old and 90% turnover every four years, Naval Aircraft Carriers are one of the world’s most recognized “operationally excellent” organizations. This team is all aligned with a common goal, towards a common destination of what they want to achieve. Why is that? Because carrier crews, fighter pilots, and military special operators know that organizational excellence is achieved by focusing on leadership development that drives continuous learning, individual engagement, and mission-first operations. This motivates people and they get excited to get better at their jobs every day.

There are three common traits that stick out to me from the Naval Aircraft Carrier and other high-performing teams alike. The mentality is always Leader Driven. This does not mean just the captain of the ship or the CEO of your company. I’m talking about the crew on the flight deck, the leaders in the kitchen making meals for 5,000 people, your team on the front line. Leadership plays a critical role in creating this process that the entire team can rally behind.

These teams follow a Process, a common shared mental model. This process is what Flawless Execution is modeled after and is what aligns the team. Individuals come together as a team to plan out what they need to execute. Then the leader briefs the team on the execution steps and it’s straight into the execution phase. And finally, when the mission is over, the team gets together for a Debrief with the sole intent of sharing Lessons Learned and improving organizational performance.

And third, the process is Scalable. It can be used for a small team or an individual, or it can be used for an entire organization. The Debriefing allows the process itself to be easily repeatable and easily scalable.

The Structured Debrief Process

You do not have time to not Debrief. Losing out on an opportunity every time you fail to hold a debrief. The Debrief model we use at Afterburner is the STEALTH Debriefing model.

Set the Time and Place: The first thing we want to do is set the time and the place. And not only a start time, but an ending time. Trust is vital in these meetings and the first step to building and maintaining that trust is to respect everyone’s time by starting and ending on time.
Tone: This is the most important step in the STEALTH Debrief. Without establishing the tone early in the meeting, you will never be able to achieve respectful conversations where we trust each other and tell the truth. As the leader, it is your responsibility to make this happen. The key to this Debrief is it must be nameless and rankles.
Execution vs Objective: The shortest step in the Debrief. The team answers the question “Did we achieve our mission?” and it’s a simple yes or no. This is the opportunity to make sure the team understood what the mission objective was and regardless of the answer, you move on through the Debrief.
Analyze Execution: Here we continue to ask the question “why?”. You continue to analyze so you can identify the root cause of successes and failures.
Lessons Learned: We use those root causes from the previous step to write down specific Lessons Learned. Lessons Learned are an actionable step and piece of advice, not a general statement like “communicate better”. This is an opportunity to capture the knowledge of your experienced team members.
Transfer Lessons Learned: As your creating those Lessons Learned, you must create a process to capture them and share them across the organization.
High Note: Important to get back together at the end to celebrate the fact that maybe you were not successful today, we will be even more successful next time.

Mastering Execution Efficiency

At the end of the day, mission, or any time a project comes to an end, high-performing teams use the STEALTH Debrief model and reflect on how things went. They ask: What were the lessons learned? What didn’t go as planned? Were there any obstacles that slowed down work or prevented the team from accomplishing its mission?

This holistic solution to achieving execution efficiency is the foundation of Flawless Execution. As you go out and execute missions with your team, never forget to use the secret weapon of high-performing teams – The Debrief!


About the Speaker

debriefDavid “Finch” Guenthner

David “Finch” Guenthner, a former F-16 pilot and Air Force One Team member, has executed combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. As an Associate Partner at Afterburner, Finch provides world-class consulting and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies across the globe, helping them connect strategy to execution to achieve individual and team success.

Milton Bourque

Milton Bourque has been in the construction industry for over 22 years, spending the last 12 years in Industrial at Zachry Construction. Milton began at Zachry in Project Controls focusing on planning, cost, and scheduling before moving into an Operations role running his last two projects as General Field Superintendent. Currently, Milton is the Mission Planning Manager on the largest construction project in the United States. His role is to implement the Mission Planning Process and continue to coach the crews to plan their missions to continuously improve safety and production.