Debriefs (or "after-action reviews") are increasingly used in training and work environments as a means of learning from experience. We sought to unify a fragmented literature and assess the efficacy of debriefs with a quantitative review.
Used by the U.S. Army to improve performance for decades, and increasingly in medical, aviation, and other communities, debriefs systematize reflection, discussion, and goal setting to promote experiential learning. Unfortunately, research and theory on debriefing has been spread across diverse disciplines, so it has been difficult to definitively ascertain debriefing effectiveness and how to enhance its effectiveness.
We conducted an extensive quantitative meta-analysis across a diverse body of published and unpublished research on team- and individual-level debriefs.
Findings from 46 samples (N = 2,136) indicate that on average, debriefs improve effectiveness over a control group by approximately 25% (d = .67). Average effect sizes were similar for teams and individuals, across simulated and real settings, for within- or between-group control designs, and for medical and nonmedical samples. Meta-analytic methods revealed a bolstering effect of alignment and the potential impact of facilitation and structure.
Organizations can improve individual and team performance by approximately 20% to 25% by using properly conducted debriefs.
Debriefs are a relatively inexpensive and quick intervention for enhancing performance. Our results lend support for continued and expanded use of debriefing in training and in situ. To gain maximum results, it is important to ensure alignment between participants, focus and intent, and level of measurement.