The Debrief – A Path to Re-Starting Anything

Give closure conversations a try – they can remove speed-bumps in everything from personal relationships to organizational change initiatives. Believe me: I have a million stories on this. Here’s one.

I went to a not-so-great educational program this past summer. The fairly small audience – about 35 people – was made up of some people who were on staff for the sponsoring organization, others who were presenters, and many who were long-time members. The agenda was filled with good speakers delivering useful information. Sounds fine, right?

Unfortunately, I was a new member in the group and had no idea which people were staff, or volunteers, or members. They all seemed to know each other well, but I was introducing myself in every conversation for 2 days. Further, I didn’t know some of the insider jargon, and used most conversations to clarify what was being said. I spent 2 days listening carefully, taking lots of notes, and feeling like I had accidentally stumbled into a stranger’s family reunion.

On the flight home, I realized that a general introduction of the participants at the beginning would have spared me (and perhaps others) some discomfort. For example, tell people: “Stand up if you are a staff member. Thank you. Now, stand up if you have been a member for more than 10 years; 5 years; 1 year. Thank you. Now, if you are a new member, stand up and say where you are from and what brings you here.”   It would have taken no more than 15 minutes and it would have warmed things up early.

When I got home, I filled out their Survey Monkey questionnaire about the event, hoping that my “debrief” assessment would open a conversation for how to have future gatherings be more welcoming and productive for people new to the group. Six weeks later, still no response. Today I got an email from the organization promoting future events. I hit “unsubscribe” to all future mailings.

A debrief conversation gives closure: Acknowledging the facts (“we got your survey results”); Appreciating the people (“it was great to have you in the group”); Apologizing for mistakes and misunderstandings (“we’re sorry you were uncomfortable – we thought the nametags would be enough to help everybody know everybody”); and Amending broken agreements (“thanks for the idea of warming things up with a general introduction – we will discuss it at our next Staff-Volunteer planning meeting”).

Without closure, we compromise our relationships and give up responsibility for desired future results. You can’t please everyone, but when you realize there’s a mess, taking charge of the cleanup is a no-brainer.

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