A debrief is conducted when an operation or activity such as training has concluded and is used to review the way activities were conducted and make recommendations for improvements in the future.

Too often teams miss the opportunity to improve performance because they do not conduct a debrief after operations. Very often, after an incident, everyone breathes a sigh of relief and walks away.

Debriefs can take place at many different levels, from an informal get-together into a formal investigation.

Debriefing should not be viewed as a fault finding activity. Many valuable lessons for the future can be learned from what worked and went well, as well as from what went badly.

Team members and the team leader should be encouraged to contribute their observations, thoughts and suggestions at an informal debriefing meeting. For example, team members should be asked for their comments on how well the team fulfilled its objectives.

Questions you can ask include: What did we do well? Were issues handled effectively? Did the issues result from risks that should have been foreseen and responded to earlier? Were instructions clear and unambiguous? Was communication between all parties adequate and timely? Did team members have the necessary skills to do the work? Comments and any recommendations should be noted and passed on to the Crew Leader.

Going through a formal finalisation process that starts with informal debriefing will reveal the important lessons that have been learned and give people a chance to share important information. There will be lessons, not only from the work steps that were undertaken, but also from the way the things were managed and both can have enormous benefits in preparing for and managing in the future.

The NSW RFS uses a format for debriefing called an After Action Review. 

After Action Review (AAR) Debriefing Format

In an After Action Review you ask the following key questions:

  • What did we set out to do – What was the mission and key tasks?
  • What actually happened? – Agree on what happened
  • Why did it happen? – Focus on what not who. Analyse in terms of cause and effect
  • What are we going to do next time? – Does it need to be fixed? Focus on what can be fixed. Outcomes are recorded as sustain or improve