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The Fastest Way to Debrief After a Crisis in Your Business: A Leader’s Guide

Fastest way to debrief after a crisis_ leader's guide

If you’re a business leader, at some point, you’ll go through a crisis.

Maybe it’ll be huge, like a storm that impacts your entire community.

Or maybe it’ll only impact your work, like a project that’s gone awry or a client situation that’s blown up.

Whatever the crisis, you can be sure that you’ll have one, sometime, someday.

When that happens, you’ll work through it. You’ll make smart decisions, plus typically a few dumb ones.

You’ll lead. It’s what you do.

And when the immediate threat has passed, all you’ll want to do is rest. And you’ll have earned it.

But there’s one more thing you need to do.

(Sorry.)

The best leaders debrief

Good leaders know their people need a break. Great leaders know they need one, too–after all, they’ve likely been not only calling the shots but are working 24/7 to get through the crisis.

But the best leaders know that they’ve got to debrief a crisis before falling into the next one.

And they know if they don’t schedule it NOW, it will not get done.

They know that eventually, everyone will take the breaks they so greatly deserve, and the memories of all the little, important details will get blurred over.

Trust me–this isn’t anyone’s fault–it is the human brain in action. We THINK we’ll remember it all; but when the time comes to remember, we only retain the highlights.

Then, when crisis arrives again, we’re back where we started.

debrief after a acrisis or you'll go in circles

Don’t make this mistake

Some leaders I’ve worked with ask each key team person to write down their list of what was done and what they’d do differently.

That sounds great, but it never works.

First, that effort sounds waaaaay too overwhelming  for most people, even when they weren’t exhausted.

Also, leaving it to each person separately loses the insights that can come when people talk together.

Finally, it creates more work in the end, when you, as the leader, need to review and make sense of all the reports.

(And let’s get real-you’re NEVER going to get to that, are you? And then the next crisis comes . . . and you’re scrambling once again.)

There’s a better way.

Here’s the fastest & easiest way to debrief after a crisis

You can debrief your team in five fast & simple steps.  Here’s how (and what to say along the way):

Step 1: Schedule

Right now, schedule a meeting time with the 5-8 people who were most critical to your crisis response. Pick a date within the next two weeks–the sooner, the better.

Here’s what you can say to your team about this upcoming meeting to get them focused and engaged:

“While I know we’re all still recovering from [the efforts you took during the crisis], we need to capture our primary lessons learned before too much time passes and we return to our day-to-day busy lives. Please join me on [date & time] for a high-level debrief session. 

I am considering this investment in time a priority; it will save us time, stress, and energy in the future. Also, we won’t be judging right or wrong; we’ll simply be capturing the facts of what we did and what we now know. Plus, while we could likely talk about this for hours, we’ll keep this debrief session laser-focused. Please arrive ready to share your stories and ideas, and I look forward to seeing you there.”

If your team is located in the same place, choose a small, quiet room to meet–not a large conference room. Smush them together, intentionally.

If part of your team works in different locations, plan the entire meeting to be held on the phone–it’ll make it easier during step #2.

Step 2: Record.

Recording your conversation is the secret sauce that makes this process so much easier.

Because you and your team will simply do what they’ve probably been doing for weeks during the crisis–tell their stories.

your team tells stories, debrief after a crisis

(Of course, you’ll guide them with the script in step #3).

If you’re meeting in person, recording can be simple: use your smartphone.

  • Your iPhone has a built-in voice memo app. Just watch because it can sometimes stop recording after 30 minutes (or when your phone gets full).
  • Or, apps such as Voice Record Pro and Rev are simple and free to use.

If your team’s all on the phone, you can record your call free when you use a call-in line from FreeConferencing.com or FreeConferenceCall.com.

  • These take a few minutes to set up an account and navigate your way through the recording options, but they’re reliable and easy to use.

(For large organizations who already have call-in lines, double check your access to be able to record the call and later access the link–often it’s just a setting you need to change.)

As with anything in the tech-related world, a few minutes of testing before your meeting will save you a ton of time.

Step 3: Guide.

Your people are gathered. You’re ready to begin.

But how do you keep the conversation focused as promised?

You don’t need to be the hero. You need to be the guide.

be the guide when you debrief a crisis

A guide shines light on the steps, but doesn’t get in the way.

Here’s how you set up your role as the guide:

“Thank you all for your being here right now, and for all the work you’ve been doing as we recover from [crisis/event/project]. Today, we’re going to invest a little bit of time to capture our memories and lessons from this crisis, before too much time passes.

To help make it efficient, I’m going to record our conversation and have it transcribed outside. That way, we can just get our stories captured quickly now and look back on them later.

My goal here is just to listen, and I’ll ask that we consider this a no-judgment zone. If we made mistakes, let’s just get those stories captured.

I’ve got a series of questions, and I’ll ask each person to take 2-3 minutes to answer each question. Will someone be our timekeeper? [Since you’ll be focusing on listening, ensuring the recording is continuing and paying attention to your team, give someone else permission to call time.]

Any questions before we get started? [Stop and listen!] Okay, I’m turning on the recorder.”

Start the recording, and state your name, the date and the subject: “Today, we’re debriefing on our recent efforts around [crisis].”

Ask one question at a time, and ask each person to state their name before they take their 2-3 minutes to answer.

Here are the questions to guide your conversation as you debrief after a crisis:

  • What’s the one thing you personally are proudest of during this event?
  • What’s the one thing that surprised you most during this event?
  • If you had a time machine, what’s the one thing we control as a team that you’d go back and do differently?

If you have time, you can ask:

  • What questions do we have of ourselves for the future?
  • What else do we not want to forget?

As a guide, your job is to keep listening and stay neutral. Your job at this time is ONLY to capture stories–not to judge or fix them.

(If you really can’t be objective as the guide, then hire a coach or outside facilitator –someone with deep experience in listening and staying neutral. Then, you become a regular participant, speaking when it’s your turn.)

No matter how juicy the conversation, hold your commitment to the end time you stated. Be sure to press the stop button on your recording!

Oh, and be sure to press the stop button on your recording!

Step 4. Transcribe.

If you’ve used an app like Rev, you can push the transcribe button and initate a transcription at $1/minute. For a two hour meeting, that’s just $120.

It’s a small price to pay for the time saved to capture these valuable lessons. After all, if you gain one great insight from this conversation, it’ll save you ten times that in time, energy, and money in the future.

If you use another app that creates a audio file, hire a highly rated freelance transcriptionist through Upwork.com.

  • With a few clicks, you can secure a resource, upload your file, and know you’ll get a Word document with your transcription in a few days, if not sooner.

And note–don’t ask someone internally to create your transcription unless it’s work they do every day. The technology for transcription today is fast and easy but only for those who do it all the time. Asking your intern or assistant to transcribe the recording may seem cheap but believe me, it’ll take weeks, not days. Leave it to the professionals.

Step 5: Review

Within a week of getting your transcribed document, give it a read.

But just you, as the leader.

A transcription of a two hour conversation won’t take two hours to read. You’ll probably zip through it in less than 30.

Take a highlighter, and mark the themes and issues that came up multiple times.

Those are the priorities that need to go on your calendar to address in depth before the next crisis.

Now you know where to start. Get those meetings on the calendar.

Everything else gets the Frozen strategy for now–let it go, let it go.

Because you need some rest–and your team does, too.


YOUR TURN: What are your best tips for managing after a business crisis? How do you debrief and capture the lessons? I love to hear from you. Email me privately here or tell us your story on Facebook.


Want help planning or facilitating your next crisis debrief? Need to get your team–or even yourself–refocused after a business disruption? I’d be honored to help. Email me and let’s talk.


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