About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

21 July 2009

After Action Reviews

Some 25 years ago, the U.S. Army began to develop a learning methodology to help leaders at all levels bring their teams to high levels of operational readiness in the face of rapidly changing, complex, and unpredictable situations. The process is called AAR - After Action Review - and was born at the U.S. Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. The main idea is simple: after a training exercise - or a real combat situation - everyone who takes part sits down to actively discover what happened and why. This differs from a critique, which typically gives only one viewpoint, focuses on what went wrong, and prevents a candid discussion of events by participants. AARs can be formal - planned in advance, long, complex, professionally facilitated, aimed at large units, etc. - or informal - on-the-spot, down and dirty, leader facilitated, aimed at small units or individual soldiers, etc.

Does it work? The answer is an unqualified, "Yes." According to organizational learning expert, Peter Senge:
"The Army's After Action Review is arguably one of the most successful organizational learning methods yet devised."
Thank you, Peter. How is it being used by businesses?
" ...it's startling how little of the Army's integrated approach to learning has carried over to the business world."
Anything else, Peter?
"Most every corporate effort to graft this truly innovative practice into their culture has failed because, again and again, people reduce the living practice of AARs to a sterile technique."
Even though AAR's have not gained traction at the organizational level, they can be used to great benefit in one-on-one coaching situations.

The Positive Coaching Alliance, which was founded by Jim Thompson, is a non-profit within the Stanford University Athletic Department. Its mission is Transforming Youth Sports So Sports Can Transform Youth. They carry out their mission by conducting live workshops for the leaders, coaches, parents, and athletes of youth sports organizations - from pre-school to high school.

In its workshop for parents, the PCA draws a map showing how they can frame and conduct learning conversations with their kids. Specifically, they list some questions parents can ask their kids to help them learn from a practice or game experience they just had. In other words, an AAR. In addition to letting kids think and decide things for themselves, this approach encourages parents to be servant leaders, or ones who see their role as bringing out the greatness that already resides within their kids, rather than trying to manufacture something that does not.

This is a great tool to add to your coaching tool box. It's simple and easy to remember and use. In the short term, it will serve as a catalyst for learning conversations. Over the long haul, it will bring out the very best the person you're coaching has to offer.

  • What was the most enjoyable part of today's practice/game?
  • What worked well?
  • What didn't turn out so well?
  • What did you learn that can help you in the future?
  • Any thoughts on what you'd like to work on before the next game?
  • Any thoughts on what you've learned that might help you in other parts of your life?
"The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there." - John Buchan
"Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them." - Tim Gallwey
"I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable." - John Russell, Harley-Davidson Europe
"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
"To encourage, to comfort, to awaken, and to stretch those who find themselves riding this big ball as it screams thru time in the silence of space. To be a bridge, not a barricade. To be a link, not a lapse. To be a beacon and a bolster; not a bragger or a bummer. To help bring the corners of life's lips to their summit. To be a friend to those who find their fit a little awkward in this chaos society calls living." - Vess Barnes III

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