“It is crucial….to identify aspects of the process that worked well and why, and changes to the process that will improve success in the future.”*
If you do 10 things in a day, and 9 of them go fabulously, which one do you focus on? Right. The one thing that was a bust. People seem to find it easier to complain than to acknowledge things that are going well.
The same thing happens when we debrief after a program, project or event. The default feedback I hear from clients seems to be, “well, in general it went well but……” followed by a litany of things that went wrong. “
We focus on the things that didn’t go as planned. Or rather, we focus on the things that weren’t planned at all. The things that went wrong. The unanticipated malfunctions.
We glide right over the first part of the feedback, “in general it went well…” and dive right into trying to fix what went wrong. Worse, we lapse into the blame game – “who messed up?”
What we don’t do is spend time on what went right.
What if we asked a different set of questions? What if we held off the negative dissection, and first asked these questions:
- “What was the biggest success of the night / event / program?”
- “What did we do that made that happen?”
- “What else went right, and What did we do to make that happen?”
- “What can we learn from that?”
- “Is there anything we did that we can transfer to other programs/ projects/ events?”
Observe, acknowledge, and deconstruct the success.
Only THEN move on to what could have been done better. In fact, avoid the blame game completely by asking,
- “What ‘changes to the process will improve success in the future?’”
These words from Barry Lord and Gail Lord, in Manual of Museum Management, offer a positive way to improve on any program or process. It acknowledges that things could be better than they are – no matter what level they start at.
Framing the ‘what went wrong’ question to focus on process instead of who avoids laying blame on a person, and starts the brain working at analyzing procedure.
This applies to every process. From board evaluations to gala events; from personnel reviews to budget analysis; from Thanksgiving dinners to conversations with a partner. It acknowledges that things could be better – more successful – and moves the conversation to developing conditions for success.
Next time you do a debrief, start with the positive. THEN STAY POSITIVE. Watch how much more thoughtful the discussion can be.
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*Barry & Gail Lord, The Manual of Museum Management