The After Action Review (AAR)
The After Action Review (AAR) is a simple, yet powerful tool used by both the military and businesses. This tool is useful for both leadership and training. As a tool, the AAR can also damage if used improperly and will be less effective if the wielder does not keep proficient with it and practice its application.
What is an AAR? The AAR is a structured review process of an activity. It allows training participants to discover, through their own review of themselves, what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better. In can be either formal or informal, depending on how much additional structuring and support is used. An AAR should be conducted: after each significant training event, at the conclusion of a large training event, after each training event emphasized by the chain of command, and whenever you (as a leader) feel it would be useful.
Steps to conducting an AAR:
1. Gather all those you want involved.
2. Review events leading to the activity.
3. Give a brief statement regarding the specific activity.
3. Summarize the key events.
4. Encourage participation.
5. Have junior leaders restate portions of their part of the activity.
Four parts to an AAR:
What was the purpose of the action? What were we trying to accomplish? In describing and evaluating the intent, be as specific as possible.
What exactly occurred? Why? Why not? What were the results? It is hard to recall accurately what happened. That is why it is important to conduct the AAR as soon after the event as possible.
On the basis of what we tried to
do and what actually happened, what did we learn?
What do we know now that we did not know before we started? If someone else were to start down the same path, what advice would we give this person?
Based on what we know now, what should we do? Because the focus of the AAR is on action, it is important to focus on learning that can be quickly applied back into the action.
In addition to these four main
questions, to improve your overall unit, there is “Who Else Should We Tell?”
Who else needs to know what we have learned? What do they need to know? How are we going to tell them? How can we leverage what we know to drive organization-wide performance?
These four simple questions/parts should be the subject of your unit’s review discussion. You as the leader need to guide this, but many of the observations and insights should come from the other members. This is not a critique or lecture, but a time for the unit members to review the activity. Ask members the why, how, and when of the activity rather than questions that simply require a “yes” or “no” answer. Make the questions leading and thought-provoking. Ask, “What happened in your own point of view?” instead of just asking, “Did you do your job?” Relate events and key actions to subsequent results. Explore alternative courses of actions. Above all -- Maintain Positive Focus!
An AAR is not a place to determine “blame”. It is not a method to determine success or failure of a unit (i.e. this is not a test). Don’t let members “Grandstand” or “Soapbox” or turn it into a “Bitch session”. Even though some aspects of each will be present in a good AAR, alone they will detract from primary goal of the AAR: learning.
The AAR is a very simple tool and can be easily neglected or misused. Overlooking this tool will gain you nothing, but misuse of it can seriously damage a unit’s morale, cohesion, trust and ability. Many new leaders feel uncomfortable conducting AARs. They feel it is a form of “blame game” which points out their faults and weaknesses, or they don’t feel they are able to control the flow of the AAR discussion and instead “clamp down,” turning the AAR more into a critique with no input from the unit members. The AAR is a tool, and the more it is used and the more comfortable you become at conducting it, the more results will be gained. Start out simple and basic, focusing on getting answers to the four main questions/parts and later move up to becoming more specific. Also, the more this tool is used, the more integrated it becomes in your unit’s training and the less intrusive it becomes.
An AAR can make a tremendous impact on your unit. The AAR process, as well as its lessons, makes a powerful demonstration to unit members and subordinate leaders about the value the leader places on training. The non-judgmental quality of the AAR allows leaders to identify and learn from their mistakes and lets junior leaders take initiative without fear of a “zero-defect” mentality. We are all human and make mistakes; a good unit learns from them and builds upon this knowledge.
U.S. Army Field Manual 25-100, Training the Force, NOV 88
U.S. Army Field Manual 25-101, Battle Focused Training, SEP 90
U.S. Army Training Circular 25-20, A Leader's Guide to After-Action Reviews, SEP 93 (available online @ http://www.adtdl.army.mil/cgi-bin/atdl.dll/tc/25-20/table.htm)