10 Reasons to conduct After Action Reviews

Facilitated After Action Reviews – Hot Washes and Debriefs that Work

People will get more out of an effectively conducted after-action review (AAR) than the experience itself.   An AAR is a professional discussion of a training or operational event that focuses on identifying what happened, why it happened and ways to improve.  They provide us an opportunity to contextualize an experience and facilitate learning.  Without them participants will learn, but do they learn what the organization needs them to?

AARs give us the ability to leverage the way an individual experiences an event to enhance the learning for that individual and collect lessons learned to improve the organization.

10 reasons to conduct after-action reviews

  1. They solidify best practices and overcome barriers for improvement. While a person is in the moment, whether training or real world, they are operating off assessments that are a mixture of previous experiences and assumptions.  By getting participants to explore what led to certain behaviors trainers and leaders can help them solidify desirable behaviors or overcome barriers to improvement.
  2. They activate adult learning. Research on adult learning tells us that we learn more effectively when memories of previous experiences are activated and we connect our current lesson to a previous one.  AARs provide an opportunity to guide participants to connect previous experiences to current lessons.
  3. They Promote an organizational, “Learning Culture.” Among other characteristics, a learning organization is one that encourages candor and dissent, solves problems at the lowest level, promotes life-long learning, practices humility, and addresses issue quickly.   AARs provide us with a system and framework to support a learning culture.
  4. They build the team. When leaders and trainers intentionally provide a structure, time, and space for participants to candidly and objectively explore learning trust is fostered between them.  When conducted properly, AARs allow space to accept mistakes and learn from them.  They provide an opportunity to share experiences and perspectives.  Skilled AAR Facilitators will garner trust not only for themselves but create a culture of trust within the team.
  5. They contextualize lessons learned. There is no way an organization can train for every possible scenario.  AARs put micro-lessons into macro perspectives.
  6. They provide timely feedback. Participants need objective and accurate feedback as quickly as possible to implement into their learning and improve performance.  Learning is aggregate and compounded over time so lessons learned, good or bad will affect future performance.  Through effective use of AARs trainers and leaders can promote desirable behaviors and correct undesirable behaviors in near real-time.
  7. They encourage learning in real-time and the enhance ability to apply lessons learned. In an ever-changing operational environment police officers need to be resilient and adaptive to changing conditions.  We may not get a second chance to learn an important lesson.  People who regularly experience AARs can more effectively apply objective exploration of activities or events during momentary breaks in action on their own – even without a facilitator.
  8. They provide an opportunity to hear, see and discuss other perspectives. During a training iteration or real world event each person is the main character in their own story.  Regardless of how long a team has been working together each member will experience an event from their own perspective until given a chance to discuss it with others.  This also includes the use of video, radio recordings, eye-witnesses, and external evaluators.    
  9. They give us an opportunity to practice public speaking and effective communication. When conducted properly, an AAR requires effective communication practices by all participants.  Skilled AAR Facilitators use proper questioning techniques and help participants remain focused while encouraging them to effectively articulate their thoughts.  Participants can practice public speaking and conversation skills.  This is a skill-set that pays dividends beyond the immediate experience.
  10. They teach us to manage and appreciate discomfort. The human mind is wired to enable us to move through experiences with as little discomfort as possible while avoiding re-orientation of our identity.  We make most of our decisions based on previous experiences and assumptions.  A skilled AAR facilitator cuts through perceptions and challenges participants to explore deeply held beliefs and assumptions.

AARs can be used to wrap up a scenario, culminate a major training event, or debrief after a real-world critical incident.  People will get more out of an effectively conducted AAR than the experience itself.

Facilitated After Action Reviews – Hot Washes and Debriefs that Work is one of five courses presented by Team One Network instructors at ILEETA 2017.  We’ll also present, “Low Light Operations Roll Call Presentations/Demos”, Benelli M-Series Armorer, Springfield Armory M1A Rifle Armorer Course, and “You Don’t Have to Die: How to Survive an Ambush.”

We look forward to seeing you there!