It’s hard to look back and learn from the past, especially when we’re looking forward to the next thing. Here are a few habits that I believe are essential for an effective debrief:
HONESTY: Evaluation isn’t helpful if it’s not true. It’s great to be an optimist, but not at the expense of facing the hard truths. Actually, that’s not optimism, it’s denial. Sticking your head in the sand doesn’t accomplish anything other than more disaster. Getting better is more important than feeling good in the moment … and over the long haul, honest debriefs will lead to feeling great.
IMPERSONAL: If you are working with a team, everyone ought to be committed to growth and improvement. This means a criticism/critique/feedback shouldn’t be a personal attack. Evaluation takes courage, which is why it is very rare.
OFTEN: Everything that is important ought to be debriefed, even if the evaluation is very short. Ministry programs, events, retreats, meetings, and even significant conversations ought to be looked at to gain lessons for the future.
SOON: Do your evaluation sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the less you remember, which means you’ll fall back on your assumptions rather than what actually happened.
STRATEGIC: There is an important difference between observation and evaluation. An observation states a perception. Evaluation takes observation further by keeping an eye on the big picture. For example, “Last night was high energy” is an observation. Evaluation says, “High energy came at the expense of relational, we missed the mark.”) You can’t move the ball down field if you aren’t evaluating how the “little things” (program, event, retreat, etc.) connect to the “big things” (vision, values, strategy, etc.). Naturally, this assumes there a Big Picture has already been clearly defined …
PRACTICAL: A good debrief is like the Red Cross, it ought to provide real help— the kind that’s desperately needed. If an evaluation is too short, it doesn’t capture enough information. If an evaluation is too long, complicated, or cumbersome, you’ll never do it. A good debrief is structured just right.
DYNAMIC: In most situations, a few voices are better than a single perspective. Pull other people in to help with your evaluations.
REVIEWED: Don’t be doomed by repeating your past mistakes. Stand on the shoulders of your experience by periodically reviewing your past debriefs.
What’s missing from this list? What habit have you found to make for an effective debrief?
Here is a SHORTER debrief we will use for our weekend services:
 Over all rating, 1 to 5, (higher being better)
 What worked?
 What didn’t work?
 What, if anything, did we learn this weekend? (about successful programing)
Here is a LONGER debrief we use for our bigger things:
Reflection leads to wisdom. It’s worth thinking about the stuff we want to do well. Our people deserve our best, so let’s commit to getting better.
In just a few bullet points, what was the purpose/reason/objective of the event/meeting/trip/camp/retreat?
Include the agenda, both planned and actual. If there’s a difference between the two, make a note of why.
Attach the attendance list, leaders and students, both planned and actual.
On a scale of 1-10, was this event/meeting/trip/camp/retreat a success? (10=awesome and 1=very not awesome)
In just a few bullet points, briefly explain why you rated this thing the way that you did. Avoid PROS and CONS, you’ll hit those in a minute.
Was each element intentional? Was anything done “just because we’ve always done this?”
PROS: What was great? (and, what are the things that MUST happen next time?)
CONS: What wasn’t so great? (and, what are the things that MUST NOT happen next time?)
Anything else? What would you do differently next time?
What follow up is needed? Who is doing it? When is it due?
NEXT STEPS (spiritual commitments, gateway to primary program, etc.)
Missing People (those that should have been there, but weren’t)
Thank You’s / Encouragement
Any other follow up action items
Promotion / Communications: Attach the promotion plan. Did people know about the event/meeting? What would you do differently?