Debriefs Aren’t Just For Bad Outcomes

The necessity for retrospectives and debriefs is obvious when something goes wrong. We usually have an intentional debrief only when a meeting was a terrible one, or when a project failed. This is a mistake; we should be debriefing all the time. Negative feedback is incredibly valuable.

When you have a magical meeting, it’s easy to rest on your laurels and forget about feedback. What do we need to process if everything goes well? We usually end with a high five, give some props, and then we are out the door. But hosting an intentional debrief at the end of a magical meeting is an important practice.

When we debrief after a great meeting, we have a chance to socialize awesome meeting behavior. Everyone gets an opportunity to gain the wisdom of the facilitator. Otherwise, you are the only one leaving the meeting knowing what made it magical. It is obvious to you, but it isn’t obvious to your participants. There are a few methods we prefer to make debriefing at the end of a meeting a successful download of fresh wisdom.

Rose Thorn Bud, Plus Delta, and Making Feedback Fun

Feedback can be brutal sometimes. You can take the sting away by intentionally designing feedback into your actual meeting (rather than just hoping people will give it to you after the meeting). Participants can incubate more thoughtful feedback, and you can be less surprised.

For feedback to be effective and not damaging to our ego, it needs to incorporate evaluation, coaching, and appreciation. That is why we are fans of using Rose Thorn Bud and Plus Delta in our workshops for capturing feedback.

Here is how to do the exercise:

  • Give each participant stickies of different colors
  • Rose = Things that are positive; goes on pink stickies
  • Thorn = Things that are negative; goes on blue stickies
  • Bud = Things that have potential; goes on green stickies
  • Get each participant to generate as many points as possible
  • Have them only include one issue, idea, or insight per post-it
  • Have them select 1 from each category and socialize it with the group while you deeply listen as the facilitator.

Plus Delta is a similar exercise, but it keeps feedback binary. Pluses are appreciative elements the participant enjoyed and wants to see more of. Deltas are coaching moments of improvement and/or elements they wish the meeting or workshop would have provided. You can treat the exercise the same as Rose Thorn Bud, but with fewer stickies since it is only 2 topic areas.

Both of these are solid feedback frameworks because they incorporate evaluation, coaching, and appreciation rather than just evaluation. The evaluation components let you know where you currently stand. The coaching components give you a clear path for leveling up. The appreciation components warm our hearts and remind us why it matters to be a facilitator. Receiving evaluation, coaching, and appreciation in combination enables growth and leaves you inspired rather than defensive. It also shows others that receiving feedback doesn’t have to suck.

Update Your Meeting Culture Like Software

Your meeting culture is like old software; it no doubt works, but we guarantee there are bugs in the way you are meeting and working. You need regular software updates just like the smartphone in your pocket.

The founders of Basecamp and authors of It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy at Work, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson have a helpful way for leaders to think about making their company calmer: “When you start to think about your company as a product, all sorts of new possibilities for improvement emerge. When you realize the way you work is malleable, you can start molding something new, something better. We work on our company as hard as we work on our products.”

Examine your company’s meeting culture through this lens and you can see that your meetings, just like old software, have bugs that need to be fixed. If you are aware of habits and expectations bugging your culture and leading to unnecessary stress, it’s time to upgrade your company’s cultural software.

Before you upgrade your software, you need to identify your bugs. We use a Liberating Structure called Triz to do this. 

Triz is a three-step process, where you ask participants to:

1. “Make a list of all you can do to make sure that you achieve the worst meeting possible.”

2. “Go down this list item by item and ask yourselves, ‘is there anything that we are currently doing that in any way, shape, or form resembles this item?’ Be brutally honest to make a second list of all your counterproductive activities/programs/procedures.”

3. “Go through the items on your second list and decide what first steps will help you stop what you know creates undesirable results.”

This is an awesome exercise because most of the time, people are nervous to bring up the bugs they see in their company’s meeting culture. Using Triz to gather feedback makes it possible to speak the unspeakable and get skeletons out of the closet. As Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen advise in their book Thanks For The Feedback, “people won’t give you feedback until they think you actually want it.”

future of work

Lessons Identified vs. Lessons Learned

In all the methods above, you are going to capture ways to improve; these are lessons identified. But they are not learned yet. Now that you’ve found the bugs, it’s time to install that software upgrade.

Keep a running checklist of the lessons identified, then workshop how they will be applied. Lessons identified need to be paired with an action in order to be considered a lesson learned. A new procedure, policy, framework, mantra, or practice needs to be put in motion. At this point, be sure that the actionable changes being made to your meeting culture or clearly and thoroughly communicated to your teams. If nothing changed, nothing was learned.

Need an expert facilitator for your next meeting, gathering or workshop? Let’s talk.

Voltage Control facilitates events of all kinds, including design thinking workshops, innovation sessions, and Design Sprints. Please reach out to us at if you want to talk or for a consultation.