I’m reading The Dance of Change this week, an oldy but a goody from Peter Senge and others.  Something that struck me as fascinating is what George Roth says about the U.S. Army’s use of after-action reviews (AAR’s):

“Starting with the ‘ground truth’ (the relatively objective record, gathered by computers and video cameras, about some recent training exercise or battle), teams of participants meet to come to a mutual understanding of the reasons why a particular campaign worked—or did not.  The ability to lead a good after-action review has become a critical skill for leaders.”

Whenever I teach the “ladder of inference” model, which gives us a framework for understanding how people reach completely different conclusions out of the same set of observable data, I use the the language “as a video camera would catch it” to describe the “real” data at the bottom of the ladder.  It’s meant to be strictly figurative.   But apparently the military often does just that very thing.  I can imagine that when soldiers emerge from a high tension situation with different interpretations of what actually happened, only something like a video image and a transcript of radio transmissions would help them understand how they got from the “real” to their own interpretations.

How fascinating–and useful– would it be if we could catch workplace interactions on video camera and analyze them later, when interpersonal problems and misunderstandings arose between colleagues?   If we had a camera installed in the meeting room, with employees’ knowledge of course, and periodically used it to generate a learning conversation about a team’s interaction during routine meetings? 

The other thought sparked by the Roth’s comments on AAR’s is that they are a critical tool for any organization that must operate in a command-and-control environment.  The mountain rescue team I volunteer for is a prime example, as is any other emergency services organization.  When the mission is critical and lives are potentially at stake, incident commanders don’t have time to ask for opinions and generate learning conversations; they must resort to direct, prescriptive language and deliver it quickly.  But what ensures that we capture learning points later is the AAR, which we call simply a “debrief”.  We ask “what went well?” and “what could we have done better?” and everyone gets to comment, regardless of their status in the group.  We don’t have a video recording to look at, alas; but at least we have the prism of many different perspectives.  And that, as we know, is critical for getting the whole picture.

What does your organization do to move from the “real” to the perceived, to have those critical learning conversations about what happened and why we each see it differently?

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