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Conducting a Successful Debrief for Evaluation in Organization Development
There are many tools to conduct feedback in order to determine the outcomes of a meeting, event, or a process.  In Organization Development, the 7th phase of the Action Research Model (ARM) calls for the consultant to meet with the client to conduct a feedback session.  One tool that is frequently used is called a “debrief.”
The term “debriefing” refers to discussions that revolve around the sharing and examining of information after an event has taken place.

Debriefing is a way of interrupting the flow of action by dividing it into blocks that can be analyzed. During a client intervention, stakeholders are involved in many different tasks. They will usually go from one task to the next without stopping to think what has happened, what was effective, what could be improvement and why and how.  As a consequence they collect experiences but miss the learning that could extract from their actions.
Why is Debriefing Important?

It’s important to observe how the group is interacting, during, and after meetings.  It’s important to assess whether there were some meaningful moments to highlight learning moments.  At different times during a meeting, it’s important to ask the group to debrief. Any experience can be enriched through a good debrief because it permits the group to pause after an action and reflect on what happened. When debriefing is not used, we risk losing opportunities to learn and improve how we work together.

How Can Debriefing Be Used?

Debriefing can serve as an opportunity to reflect on an experience and make it meaningful by identifying what we learned about the project, the process, and the individuals involved.

As the OD Consultant, your job is to lead the client and members of the organization through a thought- provoking, safe discussion by asking meaningful questions in a pre-planned sequence.  In many debriefing events, you can transfer the leadership role to the client to lead their own discussion with support from you as the facilitator. A debrief usually follows this sequence: rules, what, so what, and now what.

Debriefing, when done properly, can yield invaluable information about how to proceed in the future and help an organization sustain gains and overcome challenges.

Debriefing sessions can be used for many different situations:

  • During the course of a meeting
  • At the end of a meeting
  • After an exercise, event, game or simulation
  • At the conclusion of a task.


There are three important steps to effectively debriefing after a project or initiative:

1. Setting up the debrief

First, explain to your client or team about why a debrief is important, what they will gain from the debrief, how the debrief is conducted, and how the debrief will benefit them.

The debrief will provide valuable information to improve the process and behaviors of the group for the next time or analyze a unique situation or project.

Debriefing also helps to identify strengths or how to learn from mistakes.

Debriefing is an excellent tool to support organizational learning for continuous learning  and improvement.

2.  Conducting the Debrief

a)     State why you are conducting the debrief.  Connect the debrief to the purpose of meeting, event, project, etc

b)      Keep it simple.  Select one or at the most two, clearly worded, thoughtful questions, which will stimulate active reflection.
Debriefing Questions:

  • What are your initial thoughts about the event we just completed?
  • What happened that was successful?
  • What would you do different next time?  What will help the group to improve?
  • What lessons were learned?  What should we take away from this event?

c)      Ask the group questions to debrief what actually happened?  Explain the ground rules for brainstorming – one answer at a time for each question.

·         Everyone is allowed to respond freely without judgment or comment.
·         Others are guided to listen openly.
·         The point is to encourage reflectively listening to gain feedback and learn from the experience.
·         Write the questions down.  Hearing the questions and reading the questions will reinforce the focus you want to take.
·         Provide time for quiet individual reflection.  This allows an opportunity for those individuals who don’t think out loud to collect their thoughts before the exchange begins.

d) Conduct a Debrief.  Utilize the principles of dialogue to conduct the debrief – one thought at a time, everyone actively listens, judgment suspended, be respectful, no ping pong, give everyone time to share their opinions.

·         When people have a chance to listen to each other, they trigger new ideas and ways of proceeding. As such, it is important to ensure everyone is polled for their opinion.

·         Keep the discussion focused on the project, not on the person. No blaming!

·         Be careful not to lose focus of the purpose of the debrief.  Take care that the debrief does not become a session for complaining, or airy issues.

·         Remind the group to answer the questions about their efforts. This means refraining from explaining why certain actions were taken or why some events took place, Listen and record the team’s observations without initial comment.

·         Ask what went well – Ask what was successful, so that you can preserve the positive ways in which the project was completed and what they would like to remember or share with others.  Encourage the group to comment on what they appreciated about the process from both team, personal and project viewpoints.

·         Ask what could be improved? – Remind the group it’s  important to stay open and non-defensive. Use the brainstorming format and be careful not to avoid delicate topics. Encourage the group to share their thoughts openly focusing on improvement and problem solving opportunities.

·         Identify what you could do to differently next time. For example, if the group had difficulty in some aspects of the project, what would be suggestions or lessons learned for next time?

·         Ask probing and clarifying questions to open up the discussion and gain agreement on the feedback by asking for group consensus.

e)    Write the feedback on a flipchart.  Record the suggestions and feedback shared from the dialogue.  Review and summarize the feedback and ask the group for the implications and the applications to be made in other scenarios, as well as how you can work more effectively and efficiently next time.

f)    Creating next steps on the agenda along with categories “How to improve our decision-making?” or “How to improve our team communication?” How to improve our ability to change rapidly?”

g)   At the end of the meeting generate a list of next steps. Ask, How will we implement the suggestions listed in our dialogue.  Who will be responsible?  What is the timeline?  How will we capture and share what we’ve learned?

h)  Ask, how can we tie what we’ve learned to our successes?  Keeping focused on how you are going to use successes to measure results is key to an effective debrief meeting.

Benefits of debriefing

Debriefing impacts the organization culture by encouraging open feedback from everyone involved.  By giving individuals time to reflect on the successes of the change and ways to improve, provides them an opportunity to share their story about how the organization solves problems, involves others, and what it values. These success stories become part of the culture and how business gets done, and builds commitment, trust, ownership, sustains engagement and motivates everyone involved.

Author: Nancy Zentis, PhD, CEO and Founder, Institute of Organization Development. She can be reached at nancy.zentis@instituteod.com.