How to debrief after an important meeting

Dear WW: I feel like we make the same mistakes in our company over and over again. We have long meetings and discuss all kinds of possibilities but somehow nothing changes. What can we do to actually turn all that hot air into action? RETREATED TO DEATH

Dear RETREATED,

Your email reminded me of a promotion to celebrate International Women’s Day in Austria. Energy 104.2, a leading Austrian radio station, offered listeners a naked male house cleaner as prize. Radio officials said as he dusted and cleaned, your prize could be wearing briefs or nothing at all.

Let’s face it there are times to debrief and times when it’s wise not to debrief. After a meeting or retreat is a great time to debrief (on the other hand after International Women’s Day is probably one time where the briefs should stay on). Okay, I’ll lay my cards on the table: I’m a big fan of taking time at the end of a meeting to discuss what happened. I’ve outlined a series of questions that you can use below. For more information, check out Dave Stein’s book “How Winners Sell” (Bard, 2002).

Did we achieve our objectives? I think this is the most important question to ask after every meeting. Heck, I’ll do it before I hang up on most phone calls. It’s also helpful to know that this question will be asked, because it forces you to have stated objectives going into the meeting-something that often doesn’t happen with regularly scheduled staff meetings.

If we fell short, why? We’re not looking for people to punish, but simply looking for what went wrong and how we can prevent problems in the future. Did too many people have side conversations during the meeting? Were we missing key players? Were our goals unrealistic? An honest discussion of what went wrong is the only way that I know of to prevent bad meetings in the future.

If we achieved them, how could we have done a better job? Continuous improvement isn’t a slogan, it should be a way of life. As good as the best meeting may be, it can almost always be improved. So even when the results are positive, invest some time to ask how can we do an even better job?

What new issues were raised? It is possible to be so focused on the end result that you miss the chance to learn about new opportunities, challenges and issues. So in your debrief it makes sense to see if anything came up that warrants it’s own discussion at a future gathering.

What are the next steps? When will you next meet? What homework assignments will need to be completed? Are there other people who need to be involved? How can we know that we’ve really improved? Is something being overlooked? 

Take the time to debrief for a few minutes after every meeting and you won’t have to worry about getting caught with your boxers or briefs down in the future.

Working Wounded poll:

How often do you debrief after a meeting?

  • Always, 11.3%
  • Debrief, I’m just trying to get the heck out of there, 43.3%
  • Sometimes, 45.2%

Working Wounded strategy:

Our winning strategy for debriefing after a meeting comes from Barbara T. in Los Angeles, CA. “Debriefing taught us a difficult lesson-that most of our meetings shouldn’t happen in the first place. I can’t believe how many regular meetings we had in our company. When we starting really asking hard questions-‘Was this worthwhile?’ And what we found? Most aren’t. That’s why we always find the time after a meeting to ask the hard questions about the meeting we just attended. The best part, we’ve all freed up a lot of time from our schedules.”

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. Sherrie Campbell is a relationship and business professional, having applied her counseling background in a variety of challenging organizational settings. They’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you have better ideas than they do. Also check out their complete column archive at workmash.org, “The Boss’s Survival Guide” and “Gray Matters: The workplace survival guide.” Send your questions or comments to bob@workmash.org.

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One Response

  1. I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case, great info…I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

    I’m Out! :)

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