How did it go? Debriefing – one of our best coaching moments.

We coach, develop and work alongside leaders and teams to shift ideas on leadership and provide the skills and tools needed to grow teams.


Author: Phil Hartwick
First Published: 2021

“That went well! – I bet we’ll hear from them today!”  two reps celebrate as they ride a lift down from a prospective customer’s office.

A manager challenges one of her colleagues: “I’m not sure what happened there.  I think she may have taken your comments as a bit blunt.  I’ll speak with her and let you know. ”

A executive speaks with his team: “I’ve been giving some thought about our engagement survey. To me, they are clearly saying that we need to change how we are working – so what I would like us to do is..”

What do all of these things have in common?

They are all opportunities to learn from an event. They are all opportunities to reflect on what happened, what went well and what didn’t. They are all opportunities to consider next steps.

These are all opportunities to debrief.

Debriefing is a practice that occurs in most workplaces, but in a planned way, such as at the conclusion of a project, during an agile team’s retrospectives,  or to celebrate a team’s accomplishments at the end of the year.

And debriefing also happens on an adhoc basis, particularly when something has gone badly or is going wrong  – when we go into an investigative mode.

But what we are advocating for here is to use debriefing of everyday situations, good, bad and neutral to have others reflect and take lessons from.

We can debrief just about any situation with our colleagues. The intent should be to help them reflect on how things went, their personal contribution to that situation including their own performance and behaviour.

The objective of any debrief conversation should always be to help the parties involved, and perhaps others to learn and have a sense of what to do or try next time.

Some of the notable benefits of building a robust debriefing pratice as a leader are:

  • Becoming and staying better informed. It’s important to know what is going on with your team and not just superficially. Become clear on what has happened, how things went, and what was both good and bad about it.

  • Helping others grow and learn by reflecting on how things went. It will help them see where they could have improved and what they could try and should do next.

  • It helps people see how they could improve (without you needing to tell them). Debriefing generates insights in others as to where they would do things differently next time and this may mean you won’t need to give constructive feedback.

There is no end to the opportunities to debrief, but here are a few of the more obvious ones:

  • Whenever a person is learning or is trying something new.  For example each new step in learning a new task or skill.

  • Interractions with others; i.e. customers, or other stakeholders including meetings, phone calls or presentations.

  • Relationships and collaboration between team members or others.

As leaders, a key part of our role is to help our people learn and get better at

  • Addressing and fixing everyday problems – for themselves

  • Improving and developing confidence

  • See how their work contributes to something important

Debriefing should always be a key part of a leader’s toolkit. It allows one person to help another to reflect, learn from what has happened, and have their own insights and agree next steps.

For a clever approach and helpful questions that you can use to debrief almost any situation as a leader, watch below video.

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