Learn How to Conduct An After Action Review and Make Yourself a More Valuable Leader

Dec 06, 2023

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. The AAR process typically involves gathering key stakeholders who were involved in the activity, including leaders, team members, and other relevant participants. The review focuses on both positive aspects and areas for improvement.

Learn how to conduct an AAR and make yourself a more valuable leader.

Four Fundamental Steps for Conducting an AAR:

1. Reflect on your original plan. Start the session with a brief recap of the outcomes you were all hoping to achieve. It serves as a useful reminder and helps to get people focused on the discussion ahead.

2. Determine the actual results. Talk about what actually happened. Ask open-ended questions to elicit 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 goals easily or maybe you encountered the same barriers over and over again, such as equipment malfunctions or miscommunications.

4. Recommend future improvements. Focus on what you can do better next time. 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. Even though 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. There are many good reasons for engaging a professional facilitator. An outsider’s perspective often brings to light topics that people more familiar with the situation overlook. They can also help resolve conflicts and strengthen communications.

4. Address personnel issues separately. Stick to the facts about what happened 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 schedule by making reviews automatic. 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 others you work with like consultants and vendors. You can even conduct separate internal and external reviews of major projects.

8. Include your successes. There’s a natural tendency to go straight 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, each person 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 objectives are. You may need to scale back or take on new challenges.

11. Hand out written assignments. Promote concrete action by giving everyone some homework to do. Individual assignments make it clear that everyone’s contribution 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 get better every 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.