Two weeks ago I completed two weeks of reserve military exercise, at the end of which I participated in - observed, really - an After Action Review. It wasn’t the first military AAR that I had been a part of, but it was the first that I was impressed by. It wasn’t done the classic way, you know, going through the four standard questions. Instead, each key appointment holder asked to share what they would sustain (or do again) and what they would improve (or do differently).
What really struck me was how frank those people were, in talking about what they would improve. It was tentamount to confessing that they hadn’t quite done such a good job. This is remarkable because as career soldiers surely their performance bonus hinges on, well, their performance. Why were they so willing to broadcast their own failings, I wondered. As far as i could tell, it had to do with the person leading the AAR. As the head honcho, the commander set the tone for the session. Because this was a staging exercise for a larger one to be held the following year, he was emphatic about how important it was to surface mistakes so that we wouldn’t repeat them the following year. He wasn’t commanding, but more pleading. I don’t think I was the only one who felt his earnestness. Judging by the way people were still so engaged 4 hrs into the session and closing to midnight, I’d say that he pulled it off. There’s something about listening to people’s failures that keeps us interested
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