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Competence: debrief the wins and the near-misses

Blue Angels debrief after every flight is a core component of their culture of excellence.

For Blue Angels, the post-flight debrief is sacred. Everything else can wait until they analyze their performance after every flight. Their debriefs answer three fundamental questions:

  1. What happened? No one has the complete picture. It takes reflection and input from all the pilots in the air and the support officers on the ground to collect the whole picture, to capture the whole truth. Stay objective and non-judgmental. “Just the facts.” Don’t allow the discussion to get to step-2 prematurely; stay here and ask “What else?” until every participant feels nothing has been missed.
  2. Why did it happen? The good and the bad. Dig below the surface to find root causes. Again, remain objective; avoid making judgements or placing blame. At the Navy Fighter Weapons School (“Topgun”), debriefs of air combat exercises are conducted using the third-person to be objective and minimize personal defensiveness (“At this point, the blue fighter lost sight of the bandit and incorrectly reversed his turn…”).
  3. What will we do differently next time? Reinforce the good; how can we make it even better? Seek to prevent mistakes and poor performance. “If we were to fly this mission again tomorrow, what would we do differently?” Each person enhances trust by accepting responsibility for mistakes or poor performance and committing to improvement. (“Next time, I’ll apply the techniques we discussed today to keep sight of the bandit throughout the training exercise.”).

Now, here’s where the Blue Angels and Topgun and other truly high-performance organizations set themselves apart: they debrief ALL of their missions and projects — not just the failures, but also the successes and near misses.

Bill Belicheck, head coach of New England Patriots, shares this approach:

In the NFL most teams exaggerate the wins and forget about the losses. Belichick is the same with both. He does an autopsy after each game and understands there is a fine line between winning and losing. The outcome is significant, but the process has to be the same after each game. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. Chess champions keep their emotions in check because they are in deep thought. The same deep thinking should happen after a win or loss.

Be a High-Trust Leader: have the discipline to debrief every project, event, client meeting, etc. to glean the lessons regardless of outcome.

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