5 tips for... conducting successful crisis debriefs

Whether your organisation has just experienced a crisis or you’ve just completed a crisis training, failing to formally capture lessons learned is a golden opportunity missed.

Yet, too often, once the crisis is over and everyone is desperate to get back to business as usual, the appetite for holding a debrief is low. It becomes a tick box exercise rather than the meaningful initiative it is designed to be. 

(Image: Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash)

Here are five tips to help you conduct successful debriefs that flag gaps and bring improvements to your crisis preparedness.

  1. Go back to the beginning. Whether in a real-life crisis or an exercise, performance is expected to meet certain objectives. Starting the debrief process with the key question “What did we set out to achieve?” is a must-have that underpins its success.
  2. Give it structure. Allocate sufficient time and set an agenda that you can share with all concerned ahead of time. A crisis debrief is usually held after an immediate post-crisis or post-exercise informal hot wash designed to capture initial learnings. It can be modelled around the structure of an AAR (After Action Review) to analyse what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better. Key questions to consider include: what worked well? What was challenging? What would/could we have done differently?
  3. Invite key players. Attendance by company stakeholders who were involved in the crisis or took part in the exercise is necessary to ensure all perspectives are taken into account and their insight and feedback collected. Remember: if there are many stakeholders you may need to conduct more than one debrief session.
  4. Orchestrate. A crisis debrief is not just a meeting where opinions are randomly expressed. For optimal results, a facilitator should lead the session and someone should record the output, so that information can be organised and used effectively. The facilitator must lead the debrief in an open, unhindered manner so participants are free to express both positive and negative comments.
  5. Learn, share and improve. Output of the debrief must be structured and shared in a way that it can be used by key stakeholders across the organisation. Developing case studies from a crisis or an exercise is another way to ensure lessons learned are imparted through training. A detailed improvement plan must be drawn

Caroline Sapriel

Caroline Sapriel is managing partner and founder of global consultancy CS&A International. Previously, she was general manager of Taiwan and regional business development director, Asia, at JMA Public Relations in Hong Kong. She has also been a guest lecturer in crisis management at the University of Antwerp in Belgium and Leiden University in The Netherlands.