I admit, we had a lot of ego on the Special Forces teams. Most of us were in top physical condition, but we also had a few who were off the chart.
· One team had a guy who ran sub four-minute miles.
· Another team had a team member who walked in off the street and won the US Army European heavyweight wrestling championship.
· I had a team sergeant with a photographic memory. He could look at or read anything once and have total recall. Admittedly, he had always been at the top of his class.
Each one of us brought something special to the team. We attracted top people because of the mission and the training.
I often thought of the teams as if they were a professional baseball team. All the guys had come up through the ranks or minors. They were in good physical condition and extremely good at what they did. We traveled quite often and spent more time together than we did with our families. And as with baseball teams, there was a lot of competition, ego, and personality in the team room.
Who are They to Judge
One of our sayings was: “Who are they to judge us?”
That basically meant that people outside of Special Operations didn’t realize the difficulty of our training and the resulting missions. They did not have the perspective to be able to render sufficient judgment on our success or failure. They simply didn’t get us.
Now, this did not mean that we looked down on people outside of our community. Rather, it meant that only we were the best judges of ourselves … and judge ourselves we did!
After Action Reviews
Often times very critically. We often used what we called an After Action Review (AAR). During an AAR we would have an environment where we put aside the competition, ego, and personality and openly and honestly discussed what happened in enough detail that everyone understood what did and what did not occur and why, what worked, and what did not work.
The idea is that not everyone will see everything. Even then the portion of what we see is tarnished by our perceptions. When we get everyone’s point of view, we can truly understand exactly what happened.
It is important to understand the concept of leadership in the military. A leader is responsible for all that happens and fails to happen with his unit. This means that if they do really well, he is responsible, and if they do really poorly, he is responsible.
This pure form of accountability puts the burden on the leader to make sure his team is ready to go. Special Forces teams take this to a new level, since each man is senior and an expert in some area of responsibility. We were all leaders, even if we didn’t carry the title of team sergeant or team leader. Each member of the team takes the team’s success and failures very personally.
After Action Reviews gave us the opportunity to get better. We used pretty much the same format with the idea of discussing what happened, exchanging ideas, and observations, all with the idea of getting better. After every training event, we would conduct an AAR.
It would be as simple as huddling up and going through step by step the training event. We always kept as the focus what we intended to achieve. We talked about everyone’s individual performance, the performance of any specialty teams, and the overall performance of the group.
Leave Nothing Out
In an After Action Review, you don’t want to leave anything out. We didn’t worry about hurt feelings because hurt feelings won’t get you killed in combat, while being in the wrong position or not being on time would.
Don’t get me wrong, AARs were not blame sessions. The focus was on determining strengths and weaknesses and finding ways to make the strengths stronger and improve on the weaknesses.
You can use After Action Reviews in numerous places in your life. I like to use a daily AAR at the end of the day before I go to sleep. I review all that happened that particular day, good and bad. I look at what I did well, what sort of positive results I got. I also review what didn’t go so well and the results that came from that.
You basically want to think about what was planned, what really happened, why it happened, and what you can do better next time.
You shouldn’t over-analyze the day’s events. Short of a major catastrophe that really needs to be examined separately, think about only the highlights and move on. This isn’t about beating yourself up. It is about making yourself better.
Use an AAR Daily
The daily AAR can also be used in a business environment and put into practice after every shift. The shift supervisor simply gets the team together at the end of the shift and goes through the discussion:
1) What was planned?
2) What really happened?
3) Why did it happen?
4) What can we do better next time?
At the beginning, you should watch that you don’t let the discussion fall into minute details. Just get the team together immediately after the shift when everything is fresh in their minds and walk them through the four questions above.
For a business environment, compare performance against established expectations Ask yourself:
Q Did you reach your daily sales goals?
Q Did you reach an establish level of whatever product you manufacture?
Q If so, why?
Q If not, why not?
Q Were there barriers present?
Q What were they?
Q How can we mitigate them in the future?
Another occasion to use an AAR is after a big event, a project, or work towards a goal. You can conduct After Action Reviews at the end, though I would recommend setting milestones (milestones are check-in points during a project) and conducting an AAR at each milestone to make whatever course corrections you might need.
AARs can be conducted with basically any sort of thing/group that does something. As I said before, you can conduct an AAR by yourself, with your business teams, sports teams, families, civic groups, volunteer groups, etc.
Power of the Group
An After Action Review is your opportunity to capitalize on the observations of the group to get better.
Let’s hit the four questions to give you a blueprint to use for an After Action Review:
#1 — What was Planned:
What were your plans, goals or objectives for what was to occur? Did you expect any barriers or opposition to your plan?
#2 — What Really Happened:
If you have time, have each person talk through what he/she perceived as occurring. You will find a lot of different perceptions of the actual event. Did everyone understand exactly what they were supposed to do? Did they understand what was happening around them?
As you talk about what happened, compare it to the original plan. Were the obstacles you experienced what you expected? Were there unexpected obstacles? How were the obstacles responded to?
#3 — Why Did it Happen?
Talk or think about what went successfully. It is a natural tendency to concentrate on what went wrong. It is equally or even more important to know what is effective, what works in order to use it again in the future. With your teams and family, reinforce activities, actions, and behaviors that got the results you desired.
With failures, concentrate on what should have happened and then on what didn’t happen. Blame should not be given out in an AAR. You can talk about if someone should have done something, yet didn’t.
#4 — What Can We Do Better Next Time
Capitalize on your successes. If things didn’t go as planned and you didn’t perform as expected, think about ways you can get training or practice. Perhaps you want to avoid that area in the future.
When you are planning your next steps or next project or even looking to the next day, take what you want to improve on and wrap it into it.
We almost always did an After Action Review whether it was a training mission or a live mission.
No High Fives on the OBJ
We had a saying, “No High Fives on the OBJ.” This basically translates into “don’t congratulate yourself until the mission is totally over and you are back in your friendly base.” We could have been shot down in the process of flying back or something else could have happened. There is always something that could happen. Don’t do an AAR until all the steps are complete.
AARs helped us in many ways. It was a development process. Our junior team members got to see the big picture and learn from the experience of the more senior members. We were able to set better goals because we knew of our strengths.
We were able to plan training for the future to improve on our weaker areas. Finally, it helped build cohesion in our unit by having common understandings and stories of our experiences.
You can have these same benefits in your teams, whether they are work, friend, or family. You can also benefit by doing AARs by yourself to gain understanding and perspective of your daily activities.
Remember, don’t complicate what you want for yourself. You don’t have to get it perfect. Just get started.