How do we learn in action? How do we improve the effectiveness of what we do – particularly when working together with others?
One proven strategy is to set up ‘learning loops’, and in practice, much of it is based around stories.
A popular technique here is the After Action Review. It’s simple, quick, and easy to do: it consists of just four questions, backed up by two rules. And it can be done anywhere, at any time, straight after any kind of action where there’s an opportunity to improve collective skills.
The four questions provide the structure for a brief four-part story:
- What was supposed to happen?
What was the plan, the purpose of the action? What had each person intended to do?
- What actually happened?
This is where our skills in story-listening will help: we encourage each person to describe their view of the story.
- What was the source of the difference?
Again, use story to help ‘connect the dots’: to use a quote, “words are how we think, stories are how we link”.
- What can we learn from this, to do differently next time?
This is the most important part, the ‘lessons-learned’ and commitment to change, identifying what each person can do to “do it differently next time”.
The two guiding rules are equally straightforward:
- No blame!
The aim is to learn how to do things better – blaming won’t help anyone do that…
- ‘Pin your stripes at the door’
In shared-action, each has their own responsibilities, but no-one is ‘more important’ than anyone else…
So using those questions, and following those two rules, capture the overall story of the action, the learnings, and those personal commitments to change. Store all of this as text, audio or video, typically as a single story-item.
The real value of feedback loops comes not from the story alone, but from how we use that story to support shared-learning. For this, set up a regular process to scan through your stories and review those past actions and commitments.
— When planning a new action, what happened in similar past events? What can be learned from that? How might we change the plans, to do things better each time?
— For each person, what did they commit to change? Have they done so? What have they learnt and done towards supporting that change? What help do they need in making that happen?
Be the person that people want to hear from, the person they’ll listen to. Anecdote’s Story Coaching is a great way to learn new story skills that can be applied immediately to real-life situations.
About Tom Graves
Principal Consultant at Tetradian Consulting, Tom's main professional interest is in whole-of-organisation integration, and tools and techniques to improve the same. His main personal interest is in writing on skills-development and other such oddities of human existence.