Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Team Projects: So What Happens When It's Over?

Ever wonder why we think we are too busy to sit together after a project is done and review how it went?

I know I too often am already overwhelmed by the next project on my plate to give much thought to what has been completed. I'm starting to gather what is needed to notch the next success for my team. What's done is done, why waste time thinking about it?

STOP! Think about that for a minute. There are a lot of valuable lessons hidden back there now that the completed project is behind us. There are teaching points and training opportunities. There are successes and there are areas where we need to fess up about not doing what we said we'd do when we said we'd do it.

I spent 21 years in the Air Force--after each flying mission aircrews do what is called a debriefing. Teams need to do the same thing. Together, with the sense of position removed and only with those who participated in the task. There is a lot to learn and go over.

It is not as easy as sitting together and saying: "OK so how'd it go?" But that is a good start. Before the session, every member of the team needs to review the project from their point of view and have a good understanding of their contribution and their tasks.

Team members need to be self critical. But definitely not suicidal. It all has to do with the outcome--if the team outcome was overall successful, then remember that. If the overall outcome was less than successful, then there will be a lot of items to discuss.

Team members need to be honest. They know where the fell short of the mark.

Limit the time. Don't let this drag on into a "pity party" session. The leader should go first and definitely start with self-criticism. "I should have been clearer in specifying the format for the deliverable up front rather than saying, 'I'll know it when I see it,'" for example.

Why do this? Well it will help the junior members of the team learn that everyone makes mistakes as well as being successful. It is a training ground for the future leaders of the team.

As failures are noted, if they are major shortcomings, do an exploration for the root cause. Why did the team come up short. We may know why we failed--we made a bad decision, but what caused the bad decision or failure to consider some external factor. That is the teaching point.

The only way this works is if everyone checks their emotional baggage at the door. And, what is said in the room, stays in the room. It should not show up on performance appraisals or in water cooler discussions. The review of the activity needs to be a safe zone—or nothing will be gained. Everyone needs to come clean.

The leader needs to maintain order--one person at a time talking. And--it is OK to write down the larger items for the future such as best practices that worked and processes which need improving corporately.

This type of process is really applicable to every team endeavor including sports, musical bands, and organizational process teams. Groups with a performance activity involved, like a band, actually can have some very concrete data to review on the character of their performance. Recordings from the activity. Organizational teams can review process charts and the products as the basis for their review.

I do personal debriefings in my life--for successes and failures. It drives my wife crazy because I go over what happened (sometimes multiple times which is too many), what was the situation, what were the external influences, how did I react, how should I have reacted, what did I do and what should I have done. I do this after I play racquetball, after I do a project like working on my Jaguar, or a home improvement--good or bad, or serve as a leader for a conference or a performance oriented group. I do it after a poor interaction with someone. My personal debriefing gives me a basis for modifying my behavior. I also look for outside information (like form my wife) as to how my perceptions were askew from reality. I will even do a debrief if, for instance, I leave home without locking the door. I try to recreate the situation and my actions to determine where I should have acted and what external influence distracted me so that I did not act.

Leaders, take time. Schedule time. Make your teams go over the task just completed so they can learn from it and apply those teaching points to future projects. The apparent resource investment will more than pay for itself in future productivity and team morale.

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