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Understanding Team Dynamics Through InstantDebriefing

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PIETER VAN PROOIJEN – A basic understanding of the undercurrent within team dynamics enables team performance. An undercurrent manifests itself when ‘something’ is going on, but we do not know exactly where it’s coming from. Using a metaphor and asking about unwritten rules usually helps to address an undercurrent, as explained in The undercurrent in teams – diving into the team dynamics.

Address it first, then assess it

 Most likely you already apply dialogue enabling tools like:

  • a whiteboard for creating and sharing mental models,
  • 3M Post-it® notes for logging and clustering ideas or
  • a team event for strengthening personal bonds.

Some of these approaches help your team discover and share project related content. Some of these help you to (re)design processes. However, very little of these approaches specifically steer teams towards addressing and assessing the undercurrent.

This is where InstantDebriefing comes in. InstantDebriefing is a specialised app that helps a team approach team evaluation and feedback. It’s a low threshold approach for dealing with the undercurrent and is specifically designed to strengthen team performance.

Unveiling Assumptions

InstantDebriefing (ID) is part of a PhD research project about visualising the understanding of relationships. ID is designed to help unveil assumptions we as team members tend to make and it in turn makes teams more self reliant through efficient evaluation and effective feedback. Although it is currently being used as a prototype, first results already demonstrate the effectiveness it has in dealing with the undercurrent:

“InstantDebriefing added an informal touch to the otherwise professional group dynamics, thus increasing the mutual bond.”  – UNESCO-IHE

“InstantDebriefing allows my team members to voice their preconceptions and to assess one another while getting better acquainted.” – PORT OF ROTTERDAM

“Both individually and at team level insights emerge about the unique personal mix of these roles.” – ZILVERENKRUIS ACHMEA

InstantDebriefing As A Method

The combination of method and tool makes ID unique. It is a sum of its parts. It is also part of a explorative research project and follows a generative design approach. It facilitates feedback and evaluation.

There are teams that structurally apply evaluation and feedback, adopted from military and adapted in high performance teams like flight crews and surgical teams. However in other settings these methods are easily put aside and can be labeled as being irrelevant. It takes too much time and can potentially lead to opening up Pandora’s box.

Let us take a look at a form of debriefing that originates in the military: After Action Review (AAR). A simple set of questions allow a team to self assess:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What did happen?
  3. What are some improvements?
  4. What are some sustainments?
  5. What can be done to improve the training next time?
  6. Closing comments (summary).

ID as a method follows the outlines of these proven debriefing methods. It in turn aspires to bring these methods to everyday teams by providing an easy to use tool.

InstantDebriefing As A Tool

The ID tool comes in the form an app. It introduces specific landscapes to teams. Think of it as a chess board. You get to move the pieces – you and your team members – around. A landscape is a model to help discuss how you feel about a subject, team performance or individual behavior. A landscape typically contains a question and 2 to 4 possible positions for team members to assess each other. A landscape can be project related, process oriented or it can be about prefered roles.

Landscape input – assessing team members Landscape output – debriefing assessments

Unveiling Different Assumptions

After letting team members assess one another – including themselves – ID filters the results. You are then shown how others have positioned you, which unveils the differences with your own perspective. Now you can explore assumptions about the undercurrent. Each landscape acts as personal visual report, unveiling individual and team assumptions. A short list of debriefing questions fuels a dialogue about the undercurrent:

  1. What do you see?
  2. What did you expect to see?
  3. How do you feel about that?

Sharing reactions through a bilateral dialogue helps keep things small and safe. Don’t underestimate the courage it takes to be vulnerable. Although sharing individual results  – using a visual aid like a beamer – supports broader mutual understanding.

Group reviews typically require a facilitator who knows what (s)he is doing to avoid the undercurrent pitfalls and who enables an effective dialogue about team members needs.

Some tips to best use InstantDebriefing:

  • State your team goals clearly – good briefing makes better debriefing.
  • Asking the right questions and selecting the right landscape may be hard in the beginning. Start with the easy ones. Iterate with small and timely interventions.
  • Use ID in combination with other team interventions to gain a deeper understanding of the undercurrent.

Six Reasons Why To Use InstantDebriefing

These are six reasons why Instant Debriefing might be helpful in your team. It is:

  1. REAL TIME – ID is rapidly deployable. You just have to assign the team members to your survey by their name, a picture & their email address. You then select a landscape to assess and you are ready to go!
  2. FILTER – ID creates personalized, filtered & visual feedback, using assessments of all team members including oneself. This allows teams to expediently get a dialogue on a deeper level than you would normally expect and to unravel diverse assumptions they hold.
  3. SOCIAL – ID facilitates social interaction within a professional setting, promoting team dialogue on a more profound level.
  4. PLAYFUL – ID supports a dialogue with and about the team. The debriefing opens up perspectives and allows informal reflection, with or without an external facilitator.
  5. VERSATILE – ID can handle any landscape that you want to use in the debriing. For instance recommended by your favorite behavioral researcher or organizational advisor.
  6. LEARNING – ID is part of a PhD project. Teams learn while using the prototype. Participants feed experience and practical knowledge into the research. Anonymously and secure.

A more in depth framework about Instant Debriefing is discussed in this blogpost.

Support The Research

ID is now a full functioning prototype, but we are still developing. You can use the basic and free ID app to strengthen your team performance by using explicit and overt language! By using ID you also help me further my research. Thank you in advance.

About The Author

Pieter van Prooijen is a business prototyper and a part time external PhD student, working on his thesis about Visualizing the Understanding of Relationships. Check this blog. He is interested in business development, innovation, team interventions, boards of directors & inter organizational collaboration.

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