How to Run an Effective Debrief Meeting: 8 Steps (+Template)

A debrief meeting ensures alignment with organizational goals and fosters a culture of continuous improvement. Try our FREE templates.

By Kate Dagher  •   February 24, 2022  •   7 min read

With the amount of meetings that employees and managers attend in a week, it can be extremely difficult to remember and recall important decisions, deadlines, and responsibilities. As such, we often forget what we’ve learned and don’t always apply this knowledge to subsequent projects and tasks. When individuals take the time to adequately reflect on the information that has been shared with them, the ability to recall this information is improved. Because information is better recalled, it enables people to be more productive, effective, and organized. A debrief meeting is a powerful and productive way to improve the recollection of crucial information, consider important learnings, and ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page. 

What is a debrief meeting? 

A debrief meeting can take many shapes and forms, but it is essentially a team meeting that provides a learning opportunity to reflect on a project, an event, or experience. A debrief meeting typically goes over open action items related to a specific project or event, any kinds of challenges that have come up, personal learnings and factual information, related progress, or next steps. An article by the Harvard Business Review elaborates on the importance of a debrief meeting, sharing: 

“Debriefing is a structured learning process designed to continuously evolve plans while they’re being executed… In business, debriefing has been widely documented as critical to accelerating projects, innovating novel approaches, and hitting difficult objectives. It also brings a team together, strengthens relationships, and fosters team learning.” 

When should debrief meetings be scheduled? 

The frequency of your debrief meetings largely depends on the nature of your project, the status of your project, and the rate at which changes are being made to that project. As a general rule of thumb, before you can determine how often you and your team need to debrief, try hosting these meetings once a week. The best way to actually determine the frequency of your debrief meetings is to ask your team what they think would be the most effective. 

There are cases in which you’ll only need to debrief after significant project milestones, cases where you need to host a debrief every other day, and others where you’ll only need to debrief as a project comes to a close. Use trial and error to determine the length of your meetings. If you’re debriefing every day, for example, you may only need a 20 minute debrief; if you’re meeting once a month, you may need a solid hour. Discussing the frequency and duration of the meeting with your team will ensure you’re getting the most value possible out of your debrief. 

Keep it organized

Having all your past meeting notes easily accessible for future reference is crucial for successful debriefs. Fellow keeps all meeting notes in one place and chronologically for organized order.

8 steps to run an effective debrief meeting 

1 Schedule a meeting sooner rather than later

Determine how frequently you’ll conduct your debrief meetings in advance so the time is booked in your team’s calendars. Should you and your team feel as if you can cut back on the frequency of your meetings, at least you’re eliminating time commitments from your calendar. How often and how long you’re meeting for should be determined before any project or event even begins. In the planning stages of any given project, discuss how often it will be necessary to go over what you and your team are working on. 

2 Prepare a meeting agenda

For each project, event, or topic you’re debriefing on, create a meeting agenda template that you and your team can use as an outline and guide for debriefing meetings. Preparing a meeting agenda is essential for a productive and meaningful conversation. When you have an effective meeting agenda created ahead of time, the likelihood of having an effective meeting is much greater. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to have a meeting agenda prepared before everyone comes together to meet. To make your agenda as effective as possible, include main themes, talking points, supporting documents, decisions, and action items.  

3 Collaborate on the talking points

A great meeting agenda also ensures that all team members have a chance to contribute to the discussion. Because your team will be aware of the talking points and action items ahead of time, they can come prepared with ideas, questions, and things to consider. Encourage everyone on the team to add talking points to the agenda before the meeting. You can even assign specific owners for particular sections of your meeting template to ensure that every meeting attendee is actively participating and engaged. Make sure that once your talking points are established, you stick to them, putting any other topics that come up in the parking lot for another time. 

4 Ask open-ended questions

To really gauge how your team is feeling about a particular project (and to hear their opinions, insights, and suggestions), ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions prompt more discussion and therefore provide an opportunity for the team to collaborate on the tasks at hand and the decisions that need to be made. Asking these types of questions demonstrates your interest and shows your employees that their opinions and advice truly matters. The conversations that arise from open-ended questions are beneficial because they generate an opportunity to learn from others. 

5 Change the meeting format

A debriefing meeting doesn’t necessarily mean that all you and your team can talk about is what you’ve learned so far, going one by one around the table. If your debriefing meetings are boring, they’re probably not going to be effective. Think about incorporating other tools that could make your debrief more effective and more meaningful, like Kanban boards, whiteboards, surveys, and visual support. Adding these elements will make your meetings more interesting and as a result, your employees will be more engaged and more likely to contribute to the conversations being had. If you notice that your typical meeting format isn’t working, or that energy levels have been low, change up your meeting format. Don’t be afraid to not stick to a strict structure. 

6 Capture lessons learned

The article by the Harvard Business Review, also highlights the importance of capturing the lessons learned during your session: 

“Make sure you capture lessons learned in a usable format for later reference/use. At a minimum this is taking notes and distributing them to the members present. Other methods can make the information more readily available to a broader audience. For example at Procter and Gamble, R&D professionals submit Smart Learning Reports (SLRs) to a database, based on monthly research lessons learned, that can be searched by anyone in R&D worldwide.”

Summarizing the key takeaways from your debrief meetings is going to give you and your team a point of reference so you can recall important information more easily. This summary is also an opportunity to share your lessons learned with your clients, customers, and even the general public. 

7 Document actionable insights 

It’s especially important to document action items that arise from your debriefing meetings. This holds each individual in the team accountable and responsible for tasks assigned to them, and paves a clear way forward for the project to progress on a specific timeline. With Fellow, you can assign, visualize, and prioritize all your meeting to-dos in one place. You can assign action items to specific individuals with specific deadlines during the meeting. Once the meeting is over, you can also re-organize your to-do list in Fellow’s action items page and check action items assigned to you off your list as you get them done. The process is also automated, making it that much easier, carrying forward any incomplete action items into your next meeting. 

8 Share the learnings with stakeholders

Think about who may benefit from what you’ve learned during your debrief meetings. Next, you can consider how you’ll inform others about these learnings. You’ll also need to consider how you’ll store this information and access it in the future. It’s extremely important for the learnings to be accessible to you and your team so they can be referenced in the future. 

Free debrief meeting templates 

Parting advice

What we learn can only be valuable if we actually apply it to our work and put it into practice. Otherwise, it’s simply information. Hosting debrief meetings fosters open communications and allows you and your team to continuously learn from one another. Until you and your team get more comfortable with the habit of debriefing every ongoing or recently completed project, start with smaller projects or tasks to debrief. Make sure to ask your team for feedback so you can adjust your debrief meetings to best suit the way that you and your team work together. If you’re looking for a way to promote learning and continuous improvement, it all starts with a debrief. 

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