I’ll never forget my first After Action Review meeting. We were all huddled up in the ‘War Room’, a large project launch had been recently completed, and I’ll be honest…I figured the next hour would be painful. It didn’t help that the meeting invite had listed the subject as ‘Post Mortem’. After all, anything with a subject line of ‘After Death’ that invited all of my colleagues who’d I’d been working with over the past couple of weeks couldn’t be good. (It was only later in my career that I learned the much less violent sounding term ‘After Action Review’ or ‘AAR’, and readily adopted this instead!)
What happened over the next hour surprised me. Instead of the verbal bloodbath I’d been expecting, we all participated in something entirely different. Something that I believe is the most powerful type of performance discussion we have in the workplace today. Done right, an AAR meeting gives specific insight into our performance without the subsequent pressures that often accompany ‘performance discussions’ in the workplace. There is no talk of incentives, raises, disciplinary actions, contract losses or repercussions to distract us from the situation – only an honest, timely conversation about a specific project or task.
As my career progressed, I always remembered that meeting as something powerful, honest, and productive – not to mention free! I even started incorporating this concept of team AAR meetings into 1:1 meetings with my direct reports and manager. The professional insights I’ve gained over the course of my career from AAR meetings are numerous and invaluable.
So, what makes a great AAR? Here are few tips:
- Set clear ground rules and expectations for the meeting. Explain that finger pointing or blame finding is not the purpose. The purpose must be an objective look at what went well, what didn’t, and what could be done in the future to replicate successes and avoid repeat mistakes.
- Include all the key stakeholders. This doesn’t mean invite all forty people who had anything to do with a project. It does mean invite those who were directly and deeply involved with the work. It also means you invite the person who was the most demanding, the most difficult to work with, the one who called you at even the most minor of issues. An AAR is a high-level perspective meeting to look back on something in its entirety. You might be pleasantly surprised at the perception and feedback received in this type of context.
- Write down what you hear and save it for future reference. Maybe you won’t look at it again until performance appraisal time. Or perhaps not until the next project launch. Or maybe you’ll post it in your cubicle and look at it every day. Regardless, keeping it available to review is critical for quick reminders of past performance and future improvement opportunities.
Improving performance and getting results are almost universally at the top of every company’s goals – not to mention our own. Yet with all of the pressure we’re under to perform, and all of the time and energy we spend trying out every possible new thing to gain an additional edge, sometimes we have to do the opposite of what business seems to demand. We have to stop rushing forward and actually slow down, sit back and look at what was accomplished previously in order to achieve more in the future.
by Channon C.