The Next Quarter Is Coming: Prepare With a Team Debriefing

Written by:
William M. Duke

After months of extended deadlines, fruitless meetings and Task SaturationSM, you might find yourself at the start of a very long next quarter. Now is the time to leverage the S.T.E.A.L.T.H. DebriefingSM process to assess your current environment, align on next steps and, arguably most important, rally your battle-weary troops around a reinvigorated mission to achieve your annual objectives. You can find a step-by-step guide for the S.T.E.A.L.T.H. DebriefingSM here, use the tips below to help you optimize the output of your debrief and set you on the path to year-end success.

1. Preparation is key

If you didn’t develop your 2016 strategy using the Six Steps of Mission PlanningSM, you might not have an individually accountable Course of Action (COA) to debrief. If this is the case, do your best to outline the tactical missions your team executed in the previous quarter, including deadlines and a single point of accountability. Include this outline in your meeting invite and ask team members to Red Team it for accuracy prior to the debrief.

Preparation shouldn’t stop with the leader so emphasize the importance of individual preparation. The quality of your root cause analysis and resulting Lessons Learned greatly depend on your team’s ability to discuss each COA item in detail. Because a lot can happen in three months, have each team member review the COA or mission outline to prepare for the analysis of each, which will not only improve the quality of the conversation, it will save time and increase efficiency of the process.

2.Participation is selective and mandatory

The invitation list should only include those individuals who contributed to the missions. Nameless, rank-less debriefing requires an environment where honest, 360 degree feedback is provided and accepted by all participants, meaning there are no spectators. Restricting participation to those individuals who can contribute will also cut down on the number of unnecessary meetings that inhibit productivity (your colleagues will thank you).

The debrief is the concluding phase of the mission, and as such, participation must be treated with as much priority as the planning, briefing and execution phases. Not only does this ensure that all team members are given an opportunity to provide and accept feedback, it optimizes the output of that time. A team is the sum of its parts and each member brings unique insight, knowledge and experience to the debrief, increasing the quality of Lessons Learned and Situational Awareness developed during that time.

3. Priorities change – and that’s okay

It’s not uncommon for Courses of Action or entire initiatives to shift in priority during the execution phase, and if X-Gaps aren’t incorporated into your Execution Rhythm, it’s likely these changes aren’t documented in the original plan. Often times, teams will work to develop a plan that ultimately sits on your desktop or in your inbox, becoming less and less relevant with each passing day. You operate in a dynamic, constantly changing environment so your plan must be able to do the same, but if it hasn’t all is not lost.

As you analyze execution in the fourth step of your STEALTH Debrief, evaluate each change to the original plan within the context of your current environment. Look at all relevant COA items that might have been affected or still could be, then decide as a group whether those changes are still appropriate.

4. Don’t anchor  – use your parking lot

The last thing you want to do is leave the debriefing without finishing or miss your set timeline because you spent too much time evaluating items that require more discussion and/or additional research than time allots during the debrief. Any items that require more than 10 minutes of analysis should be placed in the “parking lot.” These items should be discussed at another time when the required research or resources are available to make a decision.

The parking lot is a great concept—until it’s abused. Keep this list to a minimum, a handful of items at most, or risk leaving the debrief with more questions than answers. Determine whether further evaluation of an item will provide value or inform future decision making, and if not, come to a conclusion and move on.

5. Pivot or double down

After walking through the seven steps of STEALTH, your group should have a clear understanding of where you are and where you need to be in order to achieve your 2016 initiatives. With your new Lessons Learned and heightened Situational Awareness, your team must decide whether to pivot or double down. Is your original plan still relevant in the current environment or have contingencies reshaped the landscape? Can you achieve your 2016 Mission Objectives on your current path or are their foreseeable challenges if you move forward?

6. Don’t lose the momentum!

Regardless of your results, one of the greatest products of a proper STEALTH Debrief is a rejuvenated team and a Bias to Action. Whether that action is to pivot or double down, your team will move forward with renewed fervor, greater Situational Awareness and Lessons Learned that will accelerate individual and team performance in the next quarter.

Drive that momentum straight into the next iteration of tactical missions. Start your planning process while your team’s mission-first mentality and new learning is front-of-mind. The longer you wait to push ahead, the more likely your team will resort to business as usual. But with each iteration of the Flawless Execution Cycle, that momentum will become part of your culture, giving your team an outlook that can move mountains when focused on the right things.

Commit to Continuous Process Improvement

Regardless of your results in the previous quarter, Flawless Execution is a continuous improvement methodology that focuses on organizational learning, collaborative innovation and operational agility through iterative processes. If you had a successful previous quarter, your wins can be scaled across your remaining missions because you’ve analyzed the root causes that enabled those wins. If you had a less-than-successful previous quarter, holding a STEALTH Debriefing will help redirect focus from the “failure” of a mission to the improvement of the next. Commit to learning and continuous process improvement, move straight into your next quarter mission planning and your 2016 initiatives will see Flawless Execution.


Will Duke is Afterburner’s Director of Learning and Development. His duties include coordination of the development of intellectual property, training programs, and educational materials. He also serves as a consultant to process and continuous improvement management programs. With Co-author James “Murph” Murphy, he wrote the 2010 release “The Flawless Execution Field Manual. Duke currently serves as a senior Human Resources Officer in the in the U.S. Navy Reserve and has held numerous command and  positions throughout his career.