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Using After Action Reviews at the Office
The After Action Review (AAR) is the Guard’s method for improving itself. It’s a simple, quick and effective way to identify what went right and wrong during any training event or mission. And it works. AARs require no special paperwork or expertise to perform, and they can be great tools to incorporate in your civilian job.
ELEMENTS OF AN AAR
A standard Guard AAR uses the following questions:
1. What was supposed to happen?
2. What did happen?
3. What went right? (The Guard calls these “sustains.”)
4. What went wrong?
5. What can we do better next time? (The Guard calls these “improves.”)
AARs are usually performed using a chronological approach. After a mission, for example, you might do an AAR for the planning phase, then the mission, then the recovery phase.
WHEN (AND WHEN NOT) TO USE AN AAR
Part of the AAR’s power is its versatility; use one after any project or major event. Remember, though, that AARs are only helpful when the thing you’re reviewing is something you will do again in some form or fashion. There’s no use performing an AAR on a strictly one-off event because even if you learn something, you won’t have a chance to put it into action.
AARs are generally used for work done in a group, but you can also perform your own on solo projects. They can be formal or informal, and not all of the elements have to be used in each one. In your civilian workplace, try using AARs for job interviews, major projects, sales pitches, public speaking, group presentations, business trips, new workflow implementation, etc.
TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL AARS
Perform them as soon as possible after the event. After a job interview, for example, go straight to your car and jot down a few notes. After a sales presentation, talk through the steps informally with your team on the ride back to the office. Every day (or even hour) you wait after the event, the more details will be forgotten, and the less interested group members will be in participating.
“Leave your rank at the door.” Each person involved in a group project will have a different view on how it went, and yours isn’t necessarily the right one. Especially if you are the group leader, you’ll have to create a positive atmosphere where subordinates will be comfortable speaking up. If only senior leaders participate, you’re missing an opportunity for genuine improvement.
No fighting allowed. The AAR is not intended to be a forum for airing grievances, hurling accusations or being defensive. There’s nothing wrong with collaborative discussion, but one person at a time should voice their opinions, and everyone should have the same opportunity to speak their mind with no one’s viewpoints getting shot down.
Break up big missions into smaller ones. For large projects, using in-progress AARs for smaller sections can help you make in-course corrections before minor problems become major. Example: For a phased project at work, do a Phase 1 AAR before you start Phase 2 to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. Or, have an informal team huddle after day one of a weeklong corporate meeting in case there are things you can do to improve the experience for everyone.
Do something with it. You might think AARs are only as good as the information you get from them, but that’s false—they’re actually only as good as the changes that come from them. Maximize their benefit by taking good notes, which helps you internalize findings and recall them later. When possible, assign improvement tasks right away. For instance, if your projector didn’t work in a sales presentation, assign a team member to make sure there’s a better one next time. Remember, the purpose of an AAR isn’t coming up with ideas—it’s putting them into action.