Debriefing with Purpose


(Part 3 in a series on Debriefing and Continuous Improvement)

Debriefing is such a powerful component of the culture in military aviation, squadrons consciously understand why they are doing it: Continuous Improvement. Military fighter pilots are forever working hard at improving their flying skills, outsmarting the enemy, improving the condition of their jets, and safety. They debrief with purpose.

Implementing a Debriefing program into your organization’s culture will be challenging, and as the Leader and Executive Sponsor, it is your calling to ensure the Purpose is understood. As mentioned in a previous post, Debriefing will freak some people out. Depending on your existing culture or leadership style, the transparent, objective and professional assessment, breakdown and learnings from company events or operations can be a shock to the system.

Your leadership is critical. Be present at Debriefs as the program gets started. Your visible presence will reinforce your stake in its success and the engagement of your team. Inspire your team to follow your lead, take Debriefing seriously, and be patient as you collectively learn the best approach… with a sense of humor.

Keep Debrief events on course. Debriefing is a tremendous tool for assessing plans and execution, identifying lessons learned and solving problems to their root cause. But it must stay relevant to the subject event or activity. Debriefs can easily get off-track. The Debrief is not a forum for someone’s Jerry McGuire Manifesto. Keep the Debrief focused and on-course, and table unrelated ideas and concerns for separate meetings. (Great ideas and new problems will be uncovered!)

Help by asking “Why?”   One of the key benefits of Debriefing is that it can be a strong contributor to solving company or marketplace problems to their root cause. Asking “Why?” encourages the team to assess and transparently discuss problems and solutions. Caution! This can be one of the toughest parts. If your culture has encouraged tiptoeing around issues, sweeping them under the rug, or a little too much ‘corporate political correctness’, being transparent about problems and their root cause can be a challenge. Work to take “the Who” out of the Debrief (see previous blog post TopGun Debriefing – Just Do It!), and focus on solving the real problem.

Note Naysayers and Resistors, and address them quickly. You’ll be able to tell who is resisting or rejecting your efforts to implement Debriefing. This should be a part of your larger Change Management plan. Don’t ignore Resistors, or dismiss them as incapable of getting on board. Check-in with them, listen to their issues, and earn your leadership stripes by converting them into Debriefing enthusiasts!

Inspire your team towards the honest and transparent assessment of successes and failures. Be the purposeful and mindful leader that stimulates Continuous Improvement into your culture.

Jack Liles flew combat missions in the Navy F-14 Tomcat after graduating from The Citadel, and successfully transitioned into a sales and marketing career following his naval service. He’s held leadership roles at the ad agency Leo Burnett, Coca-Cola, UPS, several start-up tech and consulting companies, and is an occasional military analyst on CNN. Jack is a Partner at TechCXO, an executive professional services firm that provides C-level leadership and consulting services for clients seeking accelerated growth and revenue. Reach Jack at


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