Exit interviews are good for the leaving; debriefing interviews are good for the staying. Both give the leader a bucketful of information that can be used to strengthen the organization.

You have probably used both in your human resources role, but let’s take an up-close look at the debriefing. It’s a great addition to your leadership tool kit!

Why debriefing?

Debriefing tells you about the team member. Their attitude toward the assigned task will be a guide for future assignments. It will also give you a tool for evaluating their characteristics and skills.

Debriefing tells you about the strength of your training program. Listening for telltale signs of frustration will give you target areas for future training. What worked? How could it have worked better? You learn so you can teach.

Debriefing gives you a good opportunity to affirm team members. Congrats to the team is always in order, but what about congrats to the team members? The follow-up interview is a good time to share a “good word.” It’s also a teaching time. Weak areas can be dealt with in a positive atmosphere—always sandwiched between “good words.”

Debriefing reinforces the importance of teams. Every meeting is a team meeting, no matter how many are involved. The debriefing interview says to the team member, “You are not alone. I am interested in you.” That is a huge plus in a leadership environment—even if the meeting has some negative agenda items.

What do you include in debriefing?  

Following the completion of a team member assignment or project, a relaxed, non-threatening interview that recaps the task and carry-through will give you a better understanding of the team member’s capabilities (or weaknesses) and an insight into future team assignments. Here are some suggested questions:

  • Did you have an adequate understanding of the assignment?
  • Did you have the necessary training to complete the task?
  • Did you have the necessary resources to complete the task?
  • What did you learn from the assignment that could benefit others?
  • What follow-up steps would you recommend for this assignment?

All leadership environs, from military to industry, use the debriefing process to their advantage. Discover the dynamic yourself. You will be glad you did—and so will your team.

–Stan Toler