Evaluations have been a part of life for centuries. An After Action Review (AAR) is an evaluation that enables work teams to learn from their activities. An AAR provides a structure that many people find especially helpful.
The model started with the U.S. Army and gradually spread to businesses around the world. Learn how to conduct an AAR and make yourself a more valuable employee.
Four Fundamental Steps for Conducting an AAR
1. Reflect on your original plan. Start the meeting with a brief recap of the outcomes you were all hoping to achieve. This method is a useful reminder that it helps to get individual’s focused for the discussion ahead.
2. Determine the actual results. Discuss what actually occurred. Ask open ended questions to generate more information. Listen carefully for comments that may need further attention.
3. Analyze the underlying causes. Figure out why events unfolded the way they did. Your team may have met their objectives easily or possibly you keep experiencing the same obstacles over and over again, such as equipment malfunctions or miscommunications.
4. Recommend future improvements. Focus on what can be done better. You may need to revise your policies or follow them more closely.
Additional Suggestions for Using an AAR
1. Decide on the level of formality. Although this process may sound technical, an AAR can be as simple as getting together for ten minutes over your morning coffee. There may also be times when you want longer sessions and a more detailed agenda.
2. Consider human and technical factors. Look at the big picture. Relationships and attitudes matter just as much as technology and subject expertise.
3. Know when to call in a facilitator. Reasoning for recruiting a professional facilitator. For the most part another’s perspective generally brings light to topics that others are more familiar with and tends to overlook. They can also help resolve conflicts and strengthen communications.
4. Address personnel issues separately. Stick to the facts about what occurred rather than rating each staff member. Performance evaluations require a different approach.
5. Respect confidentiality. Earn people’s trust by taking privacy and confidentiality seriously. Make this a forum where everyone is rewarded for speaking freely.
6. Integrate reviews into your organizational calendar. Stick to a consistent routine by making reviews mandatory. Work them into your weekly staff meetings or annual retreat.
7. Invite program partners to participate. There may be times when you want to reach out to people you work with like consultants and vendors. You can even conduct separate internal and external reviews of major projects.
8. Include your successes. Naturally we tend to go directly for the weaker areas that need to be changed. Remember that you can also learn from the aspects that went well.
9. Welcome individual perspectives. Depending on their role, every individual probably views the same facts differently. Appreciate the benefits of diversity.
10. Refine your goals. One major benefit of an AAR is testing how realistic your goals are. You may need to scale back or take on new challenges.
11. Hand out written assignments. Encourage concrete action by giving everyone some homework to do. Individual assignments make it clear that everyone’s participation is valued.
12. Be patient. The quality of your reviews will get better as people gain more confidence in the process and in each other. You will excel as a group each time you practice together.
Experience is the best teacher. With an After Action Review, you can use your past performance to build a more successful future. The knowledge you gain will boost your skills and bolster your confidence.
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