Making the Most of Your After Action Review 1
Rob: Alright, thanks Heather for the introduction and a little bit about myself for those of you that don’t know who I am. Blank Heather stated I retired from the army after 21 years of service. I retired in 2009 and since then, I’ve been working primarily with the Law Enforcement community and certain departments from the Department of Defense. I’m teaching leadership, tactical leadership tactics and weapons training. I also work with civilian groups—just wanted to add that. A little bit of experienced [0:00:45.8 – unclear] out there.
Today we’re going to talk about my experience with the After Action Review. My personal opinion is that the AR is one of the most effective tools to help improve literally all aspects of the organization. From culture to tolerance, to effectiveness in performance but it’s also been my experience the limited since just working with Law Enforcement community since my retirement in 2009 that it’s rarely used and sometimes when it is used, it’s not used its maximum effectiveness. So I’m hoping after this webinar at a minimum, you’ll gain an appreciation for how effective the tool can be and you’ll be able to run your after action reviews more easily and so that they’re more effective for you.
Here’s a picture but I blacked out the basis because I didn’t get the—anyone’s permission to share this photo. But this is a photo of a planning session that my organization did for an operation during the second invasion of Iraq. This is in probably early April, probably day 25 of the invasion and we’re pretty worn out because we’ve been rolling around for almost a month in the dessert but we’re still planning and preparing for the next operations that’s probably going to last about 24 hours.
I bring this up because most people or organizations, leaders put a ton of effort in planning and preparation just like we did. We were in the middle of a war planning our next operation. It’s very important but I also want to say that the after action review is just as important as planning and preparation especially within the proper culture within the organization, okay?
This particular photo here, this is just over 24 hours after we initiated or executed our planning. Just—you take a look at my face. I’m exhausted. My lips are chapped because I’m dehydrated and I’m filthy but we still gathered. Everybody gathered, we posted some security, we gathered in our little building and we’re going over the operation for the AAR.
If you look at what I’m holding in my hand, I’m actually carrying a notebook and at this particular time, I was a team leader. I was in charge of a small group of guys that worked for me. The bottom-line is for us that AAR is really one of the best tools that we used to identify issues that we want to fix and identify issues that worked well and we want to sustain. The bottom-line is that we know based on our experience, conducting the AAR is that it’s a tool to help better our organization each individual and we learn through this process.
Here’s the bottom line with the Aar. You want to identify problems with an operation, a procedure, a process, whatever you want to call it. Identify those problems and immediately develop solutions to fix it. It’s hard but you want to try not to get fixated on other issues and I’ll get into depth here on that in just a second.
Find solutions together about the problems that you’ve identified and not necessarily, to point the finger at the person that may have caused the problem to begin with. And again, I’ll get into the [0:05:03.3 – unclear / weeds] here in just a second about what I mean with that.
The AAR focuses on individual, leadership, and unit performance. The goal: apply lessons learned to future training and operations
The AAR focuses on individual, leadership, and unit performance. The goal is to apply these lessons learned. The number one thing is performance and only performance should be your measuring stick. You can focus on the individual, both leader and subordinates, everybody’s fair game in the AAR. You’re looking at unit and organizational performance to improve upon what you’re doing.
One thing to remember—if someone’s performance with substandard, it may not necessarily be this person’s fault. The ideas to look to improve the performance and not necessarily the individual. Don’t use this as a tool to chastise bad performance. You want to look at improving performance.
This is just my personal perspective on whether or not you should use the AAR.
If you don’t conduct AARs after each event, you are rolling the dice with each mission thereafter.
Dice. 100% a game of chance. If you don’t try to learn from your mistakes, you’re taking a chance and you probably shouldn’t take. This just in the leader issue… Everybody puts the [0:06:30.0 – unclear / ownest/honest] or the responsibility on the leader and yes he/she is responsible but everybody should take ownership of what their part in the process is.
People below the leadership push the issue from the bottom up and the senior leaders on top should push the issue from the top down and then you meet in the middle and solve your problems together.
The AAR is NOT…
- A critique or lecture
- A gripe session
- A tool to embarrass
- A tool to compare or judge
- A means to blame
I want to go through a few things of what I believe the AAR is not.
Critiques is more of a counselling session. It’s not a gripe session or a tool to embarrass someone or another organization or another department. You don’t want to compare, judge, or blame anybody during this. A little about the gripe session itself, I believe it is a separate tool from the after action review that can be used and with my experience, typically the leaders when I’ve been experienced with the gripe session, leaders use it to gain insight into current feelings or the current outlook of subordinates. It is a tool and it’s good. I’ve only experienced them maybe once or twice a year, typically leaders will try to use them to get to learn more about their network, typically they make your grumblings or complaints from their subordinates and that’s where you use your gripe session.
Bottom line? Don’t use the after action review to target an individual.
The AAR is…
- A tool to improve performance
- A tool to increase proficiency and confidence
- A positive meeting that may at times focus on negative aspects of an event BUT, a good leader conducts it in a positive way
Let’s talk about what an after action review is.
The keyword I want you to remember when you think about what the after action review is, performance. You want to focus on performance. On the third bullet there, a positive meeting that may at times focus on negative aspects of an event—leaders try to make it positive. How can we make a meeting that typically focus on negative issues to positive? You’re going to keep reminding your people of the purpose. Find solutions together and leaders try to allow their subordinates to fix the problems themselves.
Another thing you can do is identify things that went well and you want to sustain them so you’re rewarding good performance, not just hounding or focusing on negative or bad performance. Continually remind everyone the process is a group effort.
Critique vs. AAR
I pulled this chart from the website down below at the bottom of the slide here. It’s a pretty good comparison between the performance critique and the after action review.
Participation, communication, the atmosphere, the environment, you want to create or have. It’s completely different from a performance critique.
For those of you who with military experience, the critique is more of a counselling session whereas communication-wise, it’s more of a one way discussion if you will with very little input from the person being critiqued or counselled. In the AAR, you want open discussion should be open and free and not just from the leader to his or her people or subordinates.
Everyone should be able to talk not just back and forth to the leader but they need to talk to each other—that’s key. If you look at the Topic bullet there, in the performance critique or counselling section, you focus on errors committed and then the AAR, you want to look at the sequence of events and how they unfold it. sometimes, in the AAR you will immediately jump to errors committed—between my experience but you may have to do that and it’s 100% based on the amount of time that you think you have to conduct your AAR. Ideally if you have unlimited time, you want to go through each phase or sequence of events and allow your people to talk about it. You have a small window of time to do your AAR. You may have to jump immediately into errors committed. It’s the only addition to this chart to know at.
The four focal points of an AAR
- What was expected to occur
- What really occurred
- What went wrong
- why What went well and why
The four focal points of the AAR: what was expected to occur, what really happened, what went wrong and why did it go wrong, what went well and why did this go well. We always have an idea of how to a situation will unfold especially if we put a lot of planning and effort into making an event to happen the way we want it to be. Bottom line is: keep these focal points at the fourth one. I remind during the conduct that [0:11:48.7 – unclear] of their action review. Don’t just identify the problems. You want to continually ask yourself and the group “why did this happen?” then you can find the solution to the real problem.
The AAR must have:
- Honest and professional dialogue
- A focus on the result(s) of an event
- ENDSTATE: A plan to fix problems
Things that the after action must have: an honest and professional dialogue, you want to focus on the results of an event and at the end of your AAR, you must have a plan to fix problems that you’ve identified. It’s easy to say that you want an honest and open dialogue but it can be hard to encourage people to do this, to be honest and forthcoming with information. The leaders or the facilitator of the after action review, you have to remind your people of the purpose and remind them to have an open mind and give them the ability to share their concerns or ideas. Without an honest and open dialogue, and participation from everyone within the group who participated in the event, your AAR won’t be successful and ultimately, it won’t be as useful to you.
When to use an AAR
Some examples I’m going to use in AAR, for those of you on tactical teams, after each and every single training run—let’s say you’re in the shoot house, after a problematic event where you’re responding to something and it was just filled with problems continually you’re bumping into issues. After any time you review a situation, for me personally, I use AAR all the time.
As an example, when school started, I was kind of behind the power curb, getting my kids ready in the morning. So a couple of days, I kept experiencing problems getting them ready. So the third night, ready for the fourth day of school, I sat down and I said, “What am I doing wrong here? Why can’t I get the kids out the door on time?” And I did my own internal AAR and I determined that I got to start laying out their clothes for them, making sure they have everything set in the morning, backpacks are filled with their books and not homeworks scattered all over their desks. So bottom line: use the AAR process all the time.
I still use it when I work and I do my training sessions for my business. I’ll get together at the end of every training day and I’ll do an entire AAR with the entire group. Then I’ll break away and I’ll do an AAR between myself and my assistant instructors to kind of choose what we had and we try to fix them. You can use the AAR all the time and you do informally.
Use organizational standards to measure performance
Okay, here’s the deal with the after action review. When you start identifying poor performance, many times poor performance will be linked to a person. If you’re going to call somebody out if you will, you have to try to link standards to the performance. What I mean—I’ll give you an example here in just a second.
Recognize in poor performance the need for more or better training, and make it happen
Let’s say you’re a member of the SWAT team and your team is conducting the training session… A live fire shooting session in the shoot house. One of your team members is shooting poorly to the point where maybe this particular team member has thrown a couple of rounds outside of what is considered acceptable. You cannot—during the AAR after this run, you cannot just tell, “Hey John, you’re shooting horribly.” Try to link the standards that have been established for your shooting evaluations. The bottom line is: if you can link performance standards or whether it be and organizational team what have you to poor performance that makes that performance easier to swallow by the person that executed the poor performance in the first place. You always want to try to do that.
A good way to say this might be “Remember our shooting standards. We can’t be throwing rounds off the target and address it in a group form without targeting said individual but if said individual continues to shoot poorly, at some point you’re going to have to transition it and talk to that individual as a group to ensure that the performing to the standards that have been established by the organization or the team.
So what happens is, once you’ve linked the standards to the performance and this continues to happen, you want to try to link that to the next training or try to improve that aspect of how the performance is being performed. Perhaps on the next training session, you can make sure that you incorporate more shooting so that the individual can be trained better so that the performance is increased.
So recognizing poor performance the need for more or better training, and make then you make it happen as the leader or as a team or as a group after.
Joint operations: representatives of other units present for the operation should attend your AAR but DO NOT air INTERNAL dirty laundry in front of other organizations
Joint operations. When you do your after action reviews, you want to have everybody who participated in the said event to come together and talk about what had happen. The key here is how it should break down as each department should have time to conduct their own internal after action review.
So let’s say you had different elements that came together to work those elements would have their own time to do their internal after action review just about their team actions or department actions. And then they’ll also discuss the over-arching issues that affect the entire situation. Once those smaller elements have finished with their internal AAR, you’ll come together and do one over one massive AAR about the entire event.
So here’s an example of what you don’t want to do to our dirty laundry in further organizations. Let’s say I’m a member of a department and my teammate John failed to file some paperwork and as a result, it had a negative effect on the entire operations. So use the improper channels to file people working. The bottom line is it had a negative effect o the operation or incident.
You don’t share the fact that it was John who did this because he can take offense to that and he may think that the group is throwing him under the bus just by dropping his name. You may not have to share the information at all to the entire group if it doesn’t benefit the entire group. So when you have small little things that you need to talk about amongst yourselves, amongst your group, or team department, what have you, you have little things that you internally have to fix. You don’t have to share those with the entire group unless you think the entire group will benefit from that.
Good leaders create and sustain an honest and open environment, everyone’s ideas count!
Everyone’s idea count. This can be hard to do especially if your organization doesn’t operate this way now. If you don’t do this, I recommend you start doing it now. Start doing your AARs and keep doing your AARs and people will learn to trust the environment that you’re creating. It won’t be easy—absolutely not easy but you can’t not do it just because it’s hard. So you never quit and keep trying to create this open, honest and sharing environment for your after action reviews.
AARs can take on many forms:
- Phone Conference
- Key leaders only
Best case – everyone that participated in the event attends the AAR
Different forms of an AAR… the best cases that everyone that participated in the event attends are AAR. Try to get everyone together. You can do a combination. You can get the group together then VTC with another group and help key leaders. Your goal is to try to get everyone to participate in the event in your after action review because it’s a learning session. Even if an individual isn’t actively participating in your after action review, I guarantee you that person will learn something just by sitting there and listening and learning.
Let’s talk about potential problems with the after action review. This is one of my favourite pictures. It is something that I only did once and this was in Afghanistan in 2002. This C130 was coming in to extract us out of the dirt runway. So this aircraft is actually landing and I am helping mark the runway that it’s landing on. So it’s the desert what we’re marking it with these orange panels and I’m facing the aircraft. If you look just below the nose of the aircraft, you’ll see a pile of rocks there. That’s where I’m supposed to be standing but I shifted over to the right because I was afraid that I’d get hit by the rotor blades. It doesn’t look like the aircraft is probably doing 200 knots and he’s trying to slow down.
People always see problems that affect them. Just like me and they’re going to react to someone. I saw those rocks and I said, “Holy smokes. I think—“ I was scared so I shifter over to the right. The key here is to get people to share, create the correct environment and get them to share.
So let’s talk about problems. Just like me, I saw a problem, I reacted and I moved away from the rotor zone. There’s plenty of room but I was actually under the wing and it was pretty close.
Keys to success at the individual level for your after action reviews. These things are much, much, much easier said than done. It’s hard to check your ego especially if your organization is filled with type A’s. It’s going to be very, very hard. If you’re the leader and your subordinates see you do these three things, you will set the correct environment for your people to follow.
Check your ego Have thick skin Own up to mistakes!
I’ve swallowed my pride and I end up to more mistakes than I would want you all to know about. But the bottom line is, you do it for the right reasons. It’s best to own up to your own mistakes right away before someone calls you out if you will. You’ll get a ton of credibility if you do this initially, it will help keep you from becoming defensive and trying to defend yourself during the entire process because that is not the environment that you want in your after action review. When you do this, you people—if your leader will see that what you’re doing and you’ll immediately gain the respect just because you did that and then your peers will do the same. I guarantee it.
Not easy to do but if you can do this and create this environment within or create this culture within your organization, I guarantee you’re in a path to success.
Every organization has its own culture. You’ll have to operate norms that there aren’t necessarily written down and policy what have you. Leaders and everybody within your organization, you’ve got to work within its boundaries and sometimes culture can be a double edge sword. You got to think about creating or sustaining the correct environment that will start a cultural shift if you don’t have that already. Make your intentions known early on and how you want to incorporate the AAR into your organization if you’re not doing it yet.
You should—if your leader knows your organization strength than weaknesses. Identify those weaknesses and try to do build upon them and make them strengths. Culture – you’ve got to operate within the boundaries and then start a smart plan to create the culture that you want and the AAR is one tool that can help you do that.
Zero tolerance. My opinion is zero tolerance should not be anywhere in the realm during your training. You cannot expect people to be without issues or make a mistake in training because that’s why you’re doing it. You want your people to make a mistake, learn from it and then continue on.
Zero tolerance can go hand in hand with organizational culture. As an example, police officers scrutinize never before these days—they’re scrutinized by everyone. They’re scrutinized by their leaders, they’re scrutinized by their people, they’re scrutinized by their peers and 90% if not more police officers operate alone. So when they’re out there, making their own decisions, doing what you think is right, when someone tells you “I think that was a mistake,” it’s easy to take offense. When the leadership above you don’t support you or defend you, then zero tolerance is a massive animal within your organization.
How do we fix it? Zero tolerance in my opinion is 100% a leadership issue. In my former unit when I was still on active duty, we had zero tolerance in just several areas: character, moral and legal issues.
If we violated anything that was close to any of those particular issues, we were gone. Everything else was nowhere near zero tolerance. We are human. I’ve made more mistakes than anybody would probably want to know. Culturally, it creates insecure people in leaders. So here I this zero tolerance culture and you grew up in that and now you’re a leader. That the organization or your organization’s culture created you and it’s hard, hard to change.
The key here is if you identify someone who continually makes the same mistake over and over again, that’s the person that you need to target. So my recommendation is, try to understand that it’s okay to make a mistake, especially in training and it’s okay to make a mistake outside of moral, legal, ethical issues.
Hard to change? Absolutely, yes it is but if you can have zero tolerance within your culture outside the moral legal issues, your organization will be top notch, I guarantee you.
Insecure team members hand in hand with zero tolerance and again insecure team members more often than not are created by the culture within that organization. How do we insecure team members to kind of let go when they want to defend themselves in the after action review? Use your performance standards and facts. You cannot argue when facts or right in your face.
Insecure team members
I’ve seen people defend their position, decisions, or actions, what have you to the point to where they lose all credibility. If you’re an insecure person and you know this about yourself, if you don’t want to make a mistake around your peers, that’s a horrible environment to work in. If you’re going into your AAR and you know you made a mistake, try to own up initially instead of defending your position.
Let’s talk about some recommendations that I have for your after action reviews. Try to give ownership of the AAR process to your people. I’m going to run through an actual after action review and you’ll see how I try to do this. Follow the incident chronologically by phases—this is my preferred method. There’s another way and I’ll talk about that here in a second. Leaders let go of the reigns. If you’re a leader who believes that you must be in control at all times, this might be hard for you. Ideally, what you want as the leader, just to manage the process and allow the group, your subordinates to solve the problems. And sometimes at the AAR process, it can get into a heated discussion. People start focusing on defending themselves or the department’s actions instead of looking to solve the problem. So that’s where the leader needs to step in, stop what’s happening and keep the people focused on the goal.
Here’s what I recommend that you not do… Give me three good things and three bad things—that’s just a way of me saying that don’t use antiquated method to run an after action review. I saw this happen just two years ago, I was working with the group in [0:32:02.7 – unclear / Marines out] in Okinawa and they’re running their after action review. The leader comes up and says, “Alright, everybody I’m going to everybody. Everybody give me three good things and three bad things,” and it was just in my personal opinion a waste of time because there’s no plan to fix at the end of this massive amount of issues during the whole process.
Don’t conduct an AAR without a plan. You’ve got to think about it and have a process. Don’t keep the information to yourself. There’s a whole step that I’ll talk about here of how we want to share the information. Do not focus only on positive issues in order to not hurt someone’s feelings. You have to talk about the problems, not the person who committed the problem but the problem and then allow the group to find a solution.
Other ideas for leaders
Other ideas for leaders… Facilitator is someone external to your organization and this is a way to have someone who is unbiased and know we’re associated with the process or the incident. Clearly, pluses or minuses, the pros are this person’s unbiased, honest and has an external view of looking into everybody’s actions and performance, the cons, may not know the culture within the organization considered an outsider. This limiting the participation with the group itself.
Another idea for leaders is open ended questions versus pointed questions. I’ll get in-depth about how to use or when to use each one her in just a second…
The After Action Review has four main parts
The four main parts or the four parts of the after action review… The planning phase, the preparation, the actual conduct with the AAR and in my personal opinion the most important, number four is follow through on the results.
Planning your AAR
Planning your AAR. You want to identify the location early on where you’re going to do it. Remember, try to get everybody together. But if you can’t, you’ve got to determine who’s going to attend. Have all the information or the pieces of equipment that you’re going to need to conduct your AAR. The time, the time is an important resource we typically don’t have enough. Sometimes you’ll have to set a time, just like I said before if you don’t have unlimited time to do you after action review.
The key with time here is you always want to give sometimes your subordinates to conduct their own internal after action review before you come together as a group. Critically important to do that.
Preparing for your AAR
Preparing your AAR. Take notes, take notes, take notes. Everybody should take notes. The leaders, you should try to collect all observations from subordinate leaders, prepare your location and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. At a minimum, rehearse how you want to remind everybody of the environment that you want to create—open, honest sharing of information, critical. It’s always good to rehearse.
Preparing for your AAR – Leaders must take notes Ensure subordinates take notes also
I’m double tapping the take notes here because I believe it’s that critical. When I was a leader at all levels, when my subordinates would come up to me, when I would get a new junior leader underneath me, I would tell them that if you don’t see me write it down, it didn’t happen. In my world, if it wasn’t in my notebook, it just didn’t happen. Take notes and as a leader, you’ve got to take notes. If you’re a leader, you have to encourage your subordinates to take notes as well. Critical—absolutely critical.
Conducting the AAR Sample format (Law enforcement – SWAT Team deliberate mission)
So here’s where I’m going to dive right into the after action review itself. Here’s a simple format for law enforcement in this particular scenario. This is a SWAT team deliberate mission. So here’s the steps to the after action review…
Conduct Roll Call
- Review the situation and mission
- Planning process
- Infiltration to Target Area
- Actions at the Last Covered and Concealed position (LCC)
- Actions on target
- Post Assault
- Alibis and questions
The first thing that the leader would do is conduct a roll call and then their leader would quickly review the situation and the mission for the said operation. And then we’ll jump into the planning process, the infiltration to the target area, the actions on at the last covered and concealed position (LCC), actions on target, how everything evolved when we actually went to execute this operation. We’ll talk about our exfiltration, the post assault—everything that happened after everything was done and then we’ll open up to alibis and questions.
Example task organization
So I’m going to run through the AAR following this format so you guys can get an idea of how I would do it or how I have seen it done. So before that, I want to talk a little bit just to give you a little bit of somewhat a scenario. So this particular example, I am the tactical commander and underneath me, I have three separate teams: team 1, team 2 and team 3.
So that’s my example task organization. So when I start talking about the AAR, when our reference team 1, 2 and 3, you have an idea of what I’m talking about.
Example situation local police have asked for SWAT assistance in the apprehension of a local drug dealer. This will be a coordinated effort; we got multiple agencies out there participating with numerous operations being conducted throughout the city. Operations happening simultaneous to try to catch this guy, person or whatever. The bottom line is our team has been tasked with a warrant service on a residence.
And here’s our mission. On or about today, 9FEB2016L (WHEN), SWAT team (WHO) conducts objective After Action Review, it’s a warrant service, (WHAT) at 1415 3rd Street San Francisco, CA (WHERE) and the purpose is to detain the suspect (WHY).
So that’s kind of where we’re at at this example.
Conducting the AAR Conduct Roll Call – Typically done by the boss. This is used to ensure all members have arrived but is primarily used to start the AAR.
- Review the situation and mission – primarily conducted by the leader or facilitator. Don’t get into AAR specifics
- Restate the mission verbatim
- Reconnaissance efforts placed the suspect at the location
- We came together for planning at 0800L
- We finalized or plan by 1400L
- The operation began started at 0300L the following day
- Objective secure at 0320L
- Target handover complete at 0400
Now I’m going to talk through and actually run the after action review and give you some examples on how I would run it. So I’d conduct a roll call. For those of you—in this particular scenario, I’m the tactical commander, I’m doing the AAR for my team but this is usually done by the boss at whatever level the AAR is happening. It’s primarily used to ensure that members are there and ready to start the AAR.
Review the situation and mission. Again, conducted by the leader or the facilitator, I won’t get into AAR specifics. One thing I will do is I would restate the mission verbatim, I just read it out of my notebook or out of my warrant packet. At that point, I’ll talk about the situation and kind of how things unfolded. I’m going to talk about things that my subordinate leaders and everybody below them may not know about.
So let’s say it’s something like reconnaissance efforts placed the suspect at the location. We came together at 0800L. I brought in the key leaders at 08 to talk initially about our planning. We finalized or plan at 1400L. The operation began at 0300L in the morning, the following day. We secured the objective and apprehended the individual and handed over the target to the next [0:40:12.1 – unclear] authority.
So now I’ve basically gave a snapshot from start to finish in just a minute or two. I didn’t get into specifics, I’m going to allow the group to do that. So as the leader or the facilitator, I reviewed the situation and mission, and not give specifics. So I’m just giving everybody a snapshot of what happened.
- Planning process
So if I follow the format, the next step is the planning process. So everybody, I’m doing it chronologically by phases. So chronologically goes planning, infiltration, actions at the last covered and concealed position, action on target, and in the different phases within the planning process. I’m going to talk between when I had an initial notification and when we did our planning briefing.
So as the facilitator or the leader, I’m going to talk to my subordinate leaders and I’m going to say “Okay, let’s talk about the planning process. The planning process starts at initial notification and it ends when we finish our brief. At that point, I’ll talk about any leader actions that I want to share with the group during that process. Like for me, I’ll say “Okay, I brought in the team 1, team 2, team 3 team leaders in to discuss the planning process” and I’ll open up the discussion to the group. I’ll try to keep it somewhat organized. What I mean by that is I will allow each sub-element or team leader to talk individually [0:41:53.7 – unclear]. “Okay, planning process, team 1, do you have any issues?” and the team 1 team leader may or may not have any issues. And I’ll go “Okay. Team 2, do you have any issues?” and I’ll allow that team leader to talk about any issues that he had. I’ll go “Team 3, do you have any issues?” Yes, no or whatever. Then I’ll go “Okay, anybody else have an issues with the planning process?” No issues? Now we go to the next phase—infiltration to target area.
- Infiltration to Target Area
For us, this begins at the start point of where we’re actually are beginning with our vehicles or getting into a helicopter or whatever and it ends when we’ve occupied our last covered and concealed position. So let’s say infiltration to target area… “Team 1, do you have anything? Team 2, do you have anything? Team 3, do you have anything? Anybody in the group? Anything about infiltration to the target area?” so you see how I’m breaking it down and I’m doing it chronologically by phases so it flows naturally because the guys just did this.
You as the leader, you would clean up any issues that you had in your notebook that you took or made note of after the group ends. You don’t want to come in and start hammering your people right away with 15 problems on your list. Remember, you want to give ownership to your people so allow them to find the issues, find solutions and then you comment at the end if they didn’t mention anything that you had noted in your notebook.
- Actions at LCC
- Actions on target
The process continues, actions at the last covered and concealed position starts when you’ve occupied it and it ends when you’ve departed to go to the structure itself. Say “Team 1, what do you have for actions at the LCC? Team 2, team 3? Issues identified solutions, identified leader annotates those in the notebook and then you continue to the next actions on target. Starts when you depart the LCC and ends when you have either objective secure or you’re ready to go to your vehicles.
- Post Assault
The process continues, “Team 1, what do you have? Team 2? Team 3?” Allow each team to respond in order. Open it up to the group. Identify problems. Identify solutions. Leader captures that information and then you respond as the leader or facilitator with any other issues that weren’t mentioned. Go to exfil, same thing. Post assault, encourage team actions after the mission and target handover. Move into personal back to locations, all the way up to the after action review. Same process, “Team 1, what do you have? Team 2? Team 3? Team leader? Anybody else?” Leader or facilitator comes in and you respond with what you have.
- Alibis and questions
Alibis and questions – as the leader, you’ll ask your people “Have you forgotten anything?” and then it’s the final catch-all for anybody else who has issues of what they saw or experienced during the incident.
The last process in the AAR process is identifying people to follow through. I’m going to hit this hard after this next process. So that’s the only thing that’s missing here because I got a whole different section for it.
AAR General Format
So let’s talk about—I have a general format here that I share and teach on the after action review. This is for people who aren’t or organizations that aren’t law enforcement centric or members of a SWAT team, doing an operation just like I explained it here.
Again, so I’m going to go through this and the process is still the same. You want to do chronological phases and the process will still allow your people to have or voice their concerns, identify the issues and then solutions first then you police up at the end.
Introduction and AAR rules. At this point, the leader or the facilitator would lay out the rules for the after action review. I want honest input; it’s ok to disagree; I want everybody to be open to new ideas; focus on facts; everybody’s view counts. So whatever your rules for your AAR, lay them upfront so that everybody knows how you or what culture or environment you want to have during the AAR process.
Step 2, review the training/mission/incident objectives. Again, this is done by the leader or the facilitator and it’s a quick one over the world if you will on the incident that just occurred. If it was a planned event, talk about what you set out to do and what the objectives were but wasn’t just responding to something. It’s laid that out as well.
Review the leader’s intent. If it’s a planned event, whoever’s creating this process has an intent. For the military, it’s called the commander’s intent, if you’re not in the military, as a leader you want to explain what you set out to do.
Four, state the mission and situation. If you’re a law enforcement organization, you cover The 5 Ws – Who, What, When, Where and Why. If you’re not, you’ll jump into the situation and quickly review how the events unfolded. Again, don’t get into the weeds into the after action review issues. You just want to give guys a refresher of the situation so it’s fresh in their mind.
Number five, summary of events (chronologically by phase). That’s how I like to do it. so as an example, I am the facilitator or the leader managing the AAR process to get everybody started. You want to start from the beginning. So I have an example. So let’s start when the first person showed up at the incident. “John, you were the first guy there. What happened when you first arrived?” So now you’re allowing your people to talk through and generate discussion as the situation unfolds.
Identify sustains (what went well and why). “Okay, the way John triaged the injured people on sight was awesome. What made this possible? Why was this great?” So if your people aren’t doing this, that’s the leader/facilitator’s responsibility to remind them to find solutions to the problem. Continually ask why. Don’t just say “That was great.” Why was it great? Then the leader/facilitator captures all of this information and then you want to try to identify ways to reinforce the positive aspects of the situation. “The way John used the other medical personnel on sight set the stage for success. We need to keep doing this.” That’s how you reinforce it. So now the leader and individual what level we understand, what we need to do to continue to make sure how we want to fo this. So it’s a positive sustain for the organization.
Next one, when you’ve identified issues/problems (what went wrong and why). “Okay, how did we lose control of the first few urgent casualties?” And then give it to your people. So you’re just posing the question. Allow your people to talk about it, identify solutions to it so you’re doing this collectively back and forth.
So here’s an example, “Okay, no one had overall control of the situation, next time we need to identify someone early on to lead the incident regardless of rank or position.” The leader or facilitator captured these issues, sustains, and solutions to problems in your document (notebook, computer, etc..).
Number ten, critical. Task someone or a group of people to follow up on identified solutions. As an example, “Steve, I want your section to follow up on determining the best ladder to use when we need to extract someone from a window”. These are just examples that I’ve drawn together. “I want an update no later than Wednesday; you can email me what you’ve come up with or come by my office so we talk about it.” the bottom line is, you want to give them what they’re responsible for and a time frame for them to come back with the solution to the problem. Don’t just say, “Okay, go find the solution,” and then give them a standard to adhere to. Critical, critical, critical on how you task with a purpose.
Number eleven, you have questions and alibis session.
Follow through on the results
To continue on with the follow through which is critical… In my opinion, the most critical part of the entire process is usually left out is the follow through because we get busy, right? Organization leaders, it’s time to go to the next problem but leaders at a minimum need to make sure that you do this. You got to give your people a drop dead time to get back to you and you have to support them as best you can. And then it’s the leader’s responsibility to make a plan to share and disseminate the information that was gleaned during the after action review about the incident.
It’s been my experience in organizations to conduct AARs although my experience is limited in the sense, working with [0:52:13.5 – unclear] from outside the military since 2009. Organizations, units, teams, whatever, fail to do 3 key things in the AAR.
One is they fail to incorporate other agencies or departments into the process. Two, they fail to task people to follow up on identified solutions issues or etc. And three, they failed to disseminate the information. You must do all of this so that the process is effective for your organization. Follow through.
Guiding the AAR discussion
I want to talk about certain ways that leaders and facilitators can guide the AAR, the discussion portion of the after action review. Review the objective and intent – you want to talk about what was supposed to happen and then you jump into what actually happened. Summary of recent events – start at the beginning, use a logical sequence so that people can see it happen in their head. And then when you start talking about key issues – there are one of two ways to do this: you can do it chronologically or go straight to key events, the themes and then the issues themselves. We’ll talk about that I just a second.
Chronologically – you start to finish by phases just like I did in my example AAR for the SWAT team in their operation. It allows your people to see each event. What you don’t want to support and I’ve been in the after action reviews outside of the military where guys just rehash what they did. As an example, I got on the ground and then I walked to the front door. I opened the front door, I went into the room and I did this and then after that, I went here—well that’s not what we’re talking about.
Chronologically by phase, you go okay from the front door to the next room, I had a problem here, how can we fix it? So don’t just rehash what happened. You’re just wasting time.
Key events, themes and issues – this is typically used when time is limited. It keeps people that they can also be used to keep those participating in the AAR focused and not sidetracked. You get into a discussion and it starts turning into—you’re talking about issues that are not associated to the event. As a leader/facilitator, you get them right back up on the team’s issues and get them focused.
So those are the two different ways. I personally like the chronological, from start t finish by phase. But sometimes you may have to go directly to the issues 100% my opinion based on the amount of time you have to do your AAR.
Other ways leaders and facilitators can guide the AAR… When the group is participating and they’re having good discussion conversation back and forth amongst themselves and with you, the leader/facilitator, you want to ask a general, probing questions. This generates conversation.
When everybody in the group is tight lip and not participating, you want to ask subordinates to identify the issues. “What problems did you see?” and then they’ll be a direct response to that. Then the leader chooses what problems you want to tackle first. Again, switch it back to the people. We had a problem, accountability. How can we fix it?
So sometimes, what happens is people will get fixated on the problem rather than trying to identify the solutions to the problem. So as the leader/facilitator, continually ask ‘what can we do differently.’ So now you’re making your people think in a different avenue instead of thinking about the problem. It’s the leader/facilitator’s responsibility to get people to start thinking about solutions and not just thinking about the problem.
This is critical too because once you start asking quieter members within the group what their thoughts are, they realize that their opinions and ideas matter. But you also have to make sure that they’re specific in what they’re saying. They can’t just say “Yeah, I didn’t like that because…” or a very general response to your question. Make them be specific.
The key is when you’re trying to find the root cause of the problem, you got to ask yourself “Why?” So input from everybody, was it the lack of training, was it judgment, why did this happen? Why, why, why and then your people will figure it out for you.
Leaders, you, must reference the AAR documents prior to a next planning session or you’re working toward another event, whatever. Your AAR notebook or computer folder, or however you capture the information, that’s a living, breathing document that you reference periodically to identify trends. If you look back at the last three AARs and each time you have issues with the same problem, well during the next planning session or preparation for an event, try to fix that. That’s why you have that information captured—very, very important.
And if you’re just responding or reacting to an event, you as the leader at a minimum try to keep some of those lessons learned at the front of your mind, if you can. I always try to do that when I was responding to time sensitive information. The bottom line is use the after action notebook, document, folder, whatever you have at your disposal. It’s a leader responsibility.
I had a friend email me this picture. I thought it was great. I wanted to incorporate it here into this presentation. Your brain, no matter what anybody tells you it’s not your skills, it’s not how fast you can pull , you’re gone out of your holster, it’s not how—if you have the answers to all the questions. The bottom line is: use your brain. It is the best tool that you have at your disposal and everything that you do.
This is the process that you should try to generate within your organizations. Execute or you do experience an event, a problem, an issue, or whatever, leaders and everybody within that organization should take a look at that and try to learn from it. You reflect upon it, take some thought, try to find solutions to the issues, how we can keep doing this because it was great, change, train, and you fix new problems and then keep going in that cycle. That’s what you want to do.
I want you guys to know or understand that the after action review is a very powerful tool. It’s a tool to improve organizational culture, individual and organizational performance, as well as leader performance. In my personal opinion, the most effective tool to help you improve performance at all levels, not just cultural and those other issues. Bottom line is I know how effective and powerful this tool is and I hope after this presentation, you can see that as well.
I want to say thanks for everybody for attending this webinar. I hope you all learned something. Please email me if you have any questions at all. My email address is there. I can help you—I can send you some formats of the AAR and answering the other additional questions you may have about the AAR or whatever your other questions you have on any other topics.
Again, thank you so much for attending.
Heather: Great. Thank you so much, Rob. We received a number of questions of which we’ll spend a little time addressing. I realize we’re a few minutes past the top of the hour so if you have time to stick around at Q & A, tend to be pretty substantial. So we recommend that you just hang tight for a few more minutes with us.
The first question that we have is sort of addressing that was about the AAR outlines or formats that you recommend. You did say that you would share some of your templates with others. But just in general for our audience listening in today, what are some of the common things within the actual AAR that should be included?
Rob: I would say to look at the four focal points of the after action review. I’m going to have some honest and professional dialogue; you have to focus on what went well and why, what went wrong and why. The key is to identify those and pull through on them. That’s in a nutshell—if you can do those four things, you’re going to have a productive after action review.
Heather: Great, thank you. The next question—you addressed it early on in the presentation and that is about the best case scenario would be anybody who’s involved with the operation or the event would participate in the after action review. The question here is—what are your thoughts about including agency personnel who may be weren’t involved with the event or the incident but inviting them to participate the after action review?
Rob: Absolutely. 100% agree because the after action review is a learning event. You don’t have to be part of the process/event/operation to learn. Bring in the most junior people in to sit in the after action review that they never participated in and I guarantee you, they’ll walk out of there and had learned something.
I totally agree. I think it’s a great process to incorporate.
Heather: Great, thank you so much. The next question we have is—through your organization, do you provide in-person training to agencies on AAR technique?
Rob: Absolutely. It’s one of the—in all of y leadership courses I incorporate the after action review. Typically, what I’ll do is I will run the first few within my classes and then I’ll get everybody a chance to run the after action review for the group. So as an example of my tactical team leader course, I will run the first after action review for each one of the training events. After that, leadership changes and you’ll get a new student leader and then that leader runs the after action review. You just rotate leadership positions throughout the training event.
Yes, I love teaching this because I know how powerful the after action review is.
Heather: Great, thank you. We’re glad that you make yourself available. We can completely tell that you’re not only passionate about the subject but very well versed in the area. The next question we have is—what do you consider to be if any [1:05:16.6 – unclear] difference between what is commonly called the de-briefing and the after action review? If there is a difference, when is it appropriate to use one over the other?
Rob: Personally, I would shy away from de-briefings. I believe that the de-briefing lacks one critical thing and that’s the follow through at the end. Though you’ll talk about the issues and the problems that happened but the after action review incorporates the follow through aspect of the process. That’s the difference.
The de-briefing’s great, yeah people will learn but if you—I’m telling you, I cannot remember much of—I’ve been in after action reviews that I’ve set in the same chair and listened and took notes for over 4 hours. So the main difference is, the de-briefing talks without the follow through and the AAR incorporates the follow through process so it’s in my opinion, one of the most critical parts of the whole deal.
Heather: Great, thank you and definitely excellent point. The next question we have is in your slide, one of your earlier slides, you used the acronym VTC and the individual was just asking if you can clarify what that acronym stands for.
Rob: Yes, sorry about that. That’s Video Teleconference. It’s like Skype-ing or what’s the Google? Google chat or something like that.
Heather: Great, thank you. Finally, the last question we have before we sign off is—it’s from an law enforcement agency and that is—just in her opinion, how specific should they be on their AAR about their mistakes they made since it may be used possibly against them in court. So essentially kind of what gets that given [1:07:24.5 – unclear] what doesn’t get that documented in your opinion?
Rob: Absolutely. That’s a great question because in my world, operating small teams and managing other teams and then being at the senior levels—there’s varying levels of the after action review. So as an example, law enforcement, you’re on the team. You want to have your AAR book that doesn’t leave your team then the leader above that element (department, etc.) they glean the information from their AAR and they package that for themselves that they can share externally. Obviously you don’t want to share a lot of it, it can come back to you and hunt you. So there’s varying levels of that after action review. Then you’re going to pull out information just like I said, you don’t want to air dirty laundry out to other organizations. So if you’re going to push the information to other agencies, departments or people external to your organization, you’ve got to manage that and that’s a leader’s responsibility.
So yeah, at the lower levels you’re going to have the down and dirty notebook that stays at that level and then as you get further up the chain, the leader ladder if you will, that stuff can get gleaned and pulled out but you still want to share those lessons with the people who participated. I hope I answered that question well enough.
Heather: Yeah, I think you did a great job answering that question. With that said, this actually wraps up our Q & A portion of the webinar. Rob, do you have any closing remarks that you’d like to share with our audience before we sign off? I know you’re done a substantial amount of talking and information shared for the last hour but is there anything you’d like to leave our audience thinking about as we sign off?
Rob: No, I just want to say thanks for everybody listening to me and have a great rest of your day.
Heather: Great, thank you so much Rob. This has been an outstanding presentation. Thank you to all our participants for your engagement and participation in today’s webinar. With that said, this concludes today’s