Teams take many forms in today’s workplace. No matter the size or location of work groups, however, those that debrief have significantly higher performance levels, according to researchers at Rice University.
“Team Development: The Power of Debriefing,” which appeared in the spring edition of the journal People and Strategy, focuses on how debriefing can impact teamwork activities.
The study found that teams that debrief — i.e., meet to discuss what went well and what did not during a particular activity — outperform teams that do not by about 20 percent. Performance was measured according to objectively quantifiable output from personnel records, self-ratings and performance appraisal ratings.
The debriefings do not necessarily have to be long, according to Eduardo Salas, one of the authors. Most in the analyzed research samples were fairly efficient and lasted 15 to 60 minutes.
Salas and his fellow authors created a list of best practices for successful debriefing sessions based on the existing research.
Before a debriefing:
- Allocate time to debrief following team activities
- Educate team leaders on how and why to lead team debriefings
- Teach leaders and team members about what really influences team effectiveness – the “science” of teamwork
- Ensure that all team members feel comfortable actively participating in a debriefing
During a debriefing:
- Avoid the following: too much focus on task work; telling, not discussing; improper or inadequate focus; taking a good look back, but no definitive look forward and being too evaluative or threatening
- Try to conduct the debriefing close in time to the “action,” if possible
- Record conclusions and agreements reached to be able to “close the loop” after the debriefing. Make sure everyone has an understanding of next steps, and follow up with team members when appropriate
- Consider trying technology to assist with debriefings (if appropriate)
Following a debriefing:
- Boost accountability and willingness to participate in future debriefings by following up on agreements and communicating progress. For instance, provide examples of what resulted from debriefing sessions, and follow up on progress
- Conduct periodic debriefings that are “fit for purpose.” For example, ask if a particular issue needs to be discussed and be mindful of how this discussion can benefit the current work environment
Salas said while there is no magical, perfect frequency with which to conduct debriefings, a good rule of thumb is to increase frequency as teamwork becomes more complex and dynamic. He also said that senior leadership should consider “decision debriefs,” where they take a recent decision and discuss what the decision was, how the decision was made (e.g., who was involved, decision governance, information considered, speed of decision making and the way things were communicated), what was done well and what could have been done differently and what this means for future decisions.
I admittedly have little knowledge about the game of soccer. I participated in a league for elementary students for a few years, but my experience mainly consisted of talking to teammates on the sidelines and partaking of the snacks before going home. I’m not even sure my foot ever made contact with the ball during a match.
In light of the recent World Cup matches, I came across an article posing the question: Is life more like baseball or soccer? The conclusion was that life mimics the team-oriented sport of soccer rather than the more-individualistic baseball. And while baseball is another sport that evades my complete comprehension, I found the argument compelling.
At Hanover College, where I’ll be a senior in the fall, we’re assigned to at least one group project in each of our business classes. During the first business class I took in college (and many of the subsequent ones I’ve completed), I received a speech on the team-oriented nature of business. Those of us who preferred individual work would have to adjust, because the success of an organization hinges on the collaboration of the individuals working within it.
The article is interesting because it asserts that even decisions we would consider purely personal—such as what career path to take, whom to socialize with and what values to hold—are actually influenced by the people around us, which makes sense. Our norms are determined by those we’re surrounded by.
Now, considering my lack of sports’ knowledge, I can’t truly comment on the soccer versus baseball argument, nor on Brazil’s loss to Germany (which seems to have inspired the article), but I appreciated the perspective on the team aspect of life and how influential our networks are. I think it’s something important to keep in mind, whether at work, school or simply with friends. Who we surround ourselves with and who we work with can play a major role in our lives.
When asked over the years what I do for a living, the answer has typically been journalist, reporter, editor, communications professional or some close variation. But when it comes to BizVoice magazine and our (joined by colleagues Rebecca, Tony, Candace, Matt and Symone) role, I think I prefer storyteller. It’s what we do in article after article, issue after issue.
At no time is that term more perfectly suited, however, than when writing for our Best Places to Work in Indiana issue. We’re "telling stories" of people that truly enjoy their time in the workplace and companies that make that possible. They are genuine and speaking from the heart when they use words and phrases like "family," "special culture," "service to each other," "close team" and more. (In 25-plus years, trust me I’ve seen and listened to many who were more auditioning than being authentic).
It’s really a privilege to be able to bring these stories to our readers. I’m sure you will enjoy the offerings this time around. Seventy companies are on the 2010 Best Places to Work list. While we can’t sit down with each and every one, we profile a variety in different locations and types of businesses, as well as gain the comments of many more in stories that focus on workplace communications, teamwork and respect.
The awards dinner is May 6. BizVoice will go in the mail that day and be available online after the event (can’t reveal those final rankings ahead of time). And if you think your company or another organization should be in the running as a leading employer, learn more about the annual program here.