Mission Analysis and STEALTH Debrief: The Ultimate Performance Review

Afterburner Team Written by:
Afterburner Team

Now that you’re aware of all the Pros of Debriefing, you’re likely wondering how to go about conducting one, and applying an effective mission analysis. The process of Debriefing is as important as the Lessons Learned that are gathered from it. Why? Because haphazard or unstructured Debriefs can create more issues than they solve. You run the risk of creating a pseudo-safe environment where criticism is neither constructive nor pertinent and the Nameless, Rankless element is forgotten. Or individual egos affect the team’s ability to identify and thoroughly vet the errors or near-misses of the mission.

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However, by following the seven-step STEALTH DebriefSM, you can positively affect your team’s operational environment and mission analysis by establishing a culture of continuous improvement that circumvents future errors through Lessons Learned and candid feedback. Sounds great, right? Now, do away with the dreaded end-of-year performance review and follow these seven steps for Flawless Debriefing.

The Right Way to Debrief

► Set the Time
The debrief should be built into the mission plan, scheduled to occur immediately following the end of the mission. The start and end time should be strictly adhered to – no one comes in late and no one leaves early. To remain productive, the rule of thumb is that the Debrief should last no longer than one hour.

How to do it: All team members meet at a pre-determined location at the set time, prepared to contribute to the Debrief.

How not to do it: Jumping straight into mission analysis without establishing the timeline for the group.

► Tone
The tone is the most important – and most difficult – element of the Debrief to achieve. Team members should all feel free from judgment or repercussions in order to achieve the objective: identify the root cause of the challenges during the mission. To do this, the Debrief must meet four criteria:

  • Be held in a consistent location in order to reinforce psychological safety and discipline
  • Involve only the team members who contributed to the mission – the Debrief is not a spectator sport.
  • Be Nameless and Rankless – military aviation teams will literally rip the name tags and rank from their flight suits to reinforce this mentality. The Debrief is meant to assess performance, not individuals.

Initiate with the truthful self-criticism of the team leader. As the owner of the mission, finding the root-cause of mission issues is the utmost importance in order to establish the “it’s not who’s right, it’s what’s right” mindset. The leader must put aside any inkling of ego and admit to mistakes made. In the rare instance where there weren’t mistakes, the leader should point out “near misses” that could have led to shortfalls.

How to do it: The team leader kicks off the Debrief by sharing his or her mistakes, followed by an invitation to have team members critique them.

How not to do it: The team leader “sugar coats” or limits the number of admitted mistakes, includes excuses or commentary with each mistake and skips the group feedback. The worst way to establish tone? Not doing it at all!

► Execution vs. Objectives
Once the team establishes a trusting open environment, it’s time to review the mission. Restate the Mission Objective and compare the actual results against the intended results. Because your Mission Objective was measurable, mission success should be clear – “yes” or “no.”

How to do it: The leader will ask the team to restate the Mission Objective, followed by a summation of whether or not the execution was successful in achieving it.

How not to do it: The team attempts to redefine or modify the wording of the Mission Objective to align to the execution that occurred or begins to prematurely analyze the Course of Action.

► Analyze Execution
An effective Debrief must go deeper, allowing the group to examine the successes and errors. Discussion is the key to finding the cause of each Course of Action’s result. The cause should be how the result occurred, the action or omission by an individual or the influence of an external element that led to that result. Once the cause has been determined, the group must then determine the root cause or why the result occurred. This will help to guide analysis past individual attribution and into the system and processes that led to the result.

How to do it: The team works through the Course of Action asking the question “how did this happen?” generating a discussion first on the direct, superficial cause(s) of the result, followed by an in-depth look into “why did this happen?” Root causes are then reviewed to identify prominent or recurring root causes.

How not to do it: The team fails to examine the larger factors that contributed to the specified result, leading to the analysis of symptoms rather than the root cause(s). This allows root causes to go unchecked, leading to more issues in the future. When examining the mission “wins” the team does not properly identify the causes for effective replication during the next Mission.

► Lessons Learned
Gathering and transferring Lessons Learned is the most important deliverable of the Debrief. Without them, the same mistakes will continue to be made, the success of each operation will be forgotten, and you lose the opportunity to accelerate the learning of your entire organization. Lessons Learned should clearly state the action needed to avoid mistakes or repeat successes and should be free of ambiguous direction. The Lessons Learned should contain more than just the lesson; it should contain a reference to the Mission, the result of that Mission, the cause, the root cause, the Single Point of Accountability (SPA) for that Lesson Learned and the timeline (to help assess the relevance as time passes).

How to do it: A pre-determined scribe should document the Lessons Learned, ensuring that each one is clear and actionable, then transfer to a Lessons Learned database for organization-wide use.

How not to do it: The team identifies Lessons Learned that are vague (“communicate better”) or that aren’t actionable. Because there wasn’t a pre-determined scribe to capture the Lessons Learned, the Lessons Learned are never documented and transferred.

► Transfer Lessons Learned
The transfer should be determined through asking the following: “Who needs this lesson, how fast do they need it, and how should we get it to them?” This will help to determine whether the Lessons Learned should be “pushed” out to the team.

How to do it: The team should prepare the Lessons Learned to provide actionable insights to any team in similar circumstances, including context and point of contact for additional information. Transfer should begin with examining who needs it immediately then adding to the internal Lessons Learned database.

How not to do it: The team documents Lessons Learned by only identifying the lesson itself, then transfers it to a database without assessing immediate application in other missions, or failing to transfer to an easily accessed location.

► High Note
Though a much more constructive process than the common performance evaluation, the Debrief still uncovers mistakes and challenges which can be difficult. You must make sure the Debrief ends on a high note and avoid summarizing or repeating the negative. Debriefs should never be punitive or negative; once they are viewed as such they will cease to be useful. Lastly, what happens in the Debrief stays in the Debrief. The only record of a Debrief should be the record of context for Lessons Learned and the implicit and explicit knowledge of the team members.

How to do it: The team leader should re-cap the mission successes and thank the team for their part in the mission as well as the Debrief.

How not to do it: The team leader re-caps the mistakes that occurred during the Debrief and neglects to thank his or her team for their commitment to achieving the mission–whether successful or not–or for their participation in the Debrief.

With this seven-step framework, you will be well on your way to creating an organizational culture of discipline, accountability, and continuous process improvement through learning. Integrate the STEALTH framework into your year-end wrap-up and mission analysis, and produce the invaluable lessons learned that will drive results in future planning. Happy Debriefing!

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