Debriefing… Not Again…

What happens when you mention the word “debrief” to participants? We typically get a collective groan (at best), some eye-rolling, and strangely participants tend to gather in a circle before sitting down. When we get them to reflect or talk further, we generally get more “textbook”, “motherhood statement” kind of answers. Somehow it gets difficult to get participants to share more genuine responses. This was a common response we were getting until we learnt to shift our debriefs to sharings.

Over the years, we have learnt to conduct “sharing sessions” rather than “debrief sessions”. The difference is not just in the wording, but extends to our beliefs and actions. Our participants have come up in a system that expects them to behave in a certain way. And like it or not, the word “debrief” triggers behaviors long associated with the actions described above.

Just think about how you would be asked to sit down in a circle every time for a debrief. And how you would be required to speak in turn around the circle whilst the rest listen. And how everyone would be forced to speak even if they have no inputs. This is debriefing for our students typically.

We conduct sharing sessions rather than debrief or reflection sessions. In the words we use, we invite participants to “share”. And we set it up in a very semi-structured way. Feel like sitting on the floor? Go ahead. Want to grab a chair? Go ahead. Need to lie down on your stomach? Why not? And we invite you to share only when you are ready. Why? Because we are not even seated in a circle… unless the group wants to. Didn’t learn anything from the last activity? That’s ok, share something that is relevant instead.

When the choices are shared with the participants, suddenly the genuine conversations flow. The structured, systemic nature they are so used to are no longer present and they have an openness to share rather than to fall back to their prepared responses (teamwork, communication…).

And isn’t that what we are all looking for? A sincere, genuine sharing from our participants without the patronizing responses just to pass their turn. Suddenly that activity you just conducted will seem so much more meaningful and you will feel like all that work planning the activity was worth it now! All because we shifted our focus from a fixed, structured debriefing session, to an open sharing session.

So the next time you complete a wonderful activity, perhaps think about how you would like to elicit responses from your participants and shift towards sharing instead. You will be surprised how a simple tweak to our mindset can create a huge change in our participants’ reaction towards debriefing sessions.