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Resources for
"After Action Reviews"

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Fewer Errors


Safer Operations


More Trust

One minute video

If you find these resources helpful and use any of them in your slide decks, handouts, etc., please include From Jake Mazulewicz at Thanks.

AAR1) How Three Technical Experts Improved Reliability, Safety & Employee Engagement

"Some leaders do AARs only for accidents or errors. If you do that, your team will quickly associate AARs with failure. And they’ll give short, vague answers to get it over with as fast as possible. So, lead about 80% or more of your AARs for successful projects. That way, your team will learn to trust the process and value the results."


AAR2) How Three Technical Experts Improved Reliability, Safety & Employee Engagement

"Before Sandy started this journey, investigations were not only punitive, they were slow. They regularly burned up 3-6 months of time and effort before any results were published. By that time, most people’s memories of the original event, and their motivation to learn from it, had simply evaporated....


For two years, Sandy kept streamlining and simplifying her Event Debriefing process. She built trust by keeping the process 100% transparent to executives, regulators, other event debriefers, and every employee who she debriefed....


By the spring of 2020, Sandy had refined her process so well that she and her team reduced the average analysis time from 3-6 months to only thirty-two (32) days! And quality remained high. The new Event Debriefing process included thorough fact-checking, causal analysis, a review of human and organizational factors, and clear, actionable conclusions."




AAR3) Peter Senge in a personal communication with Darling & Parry, December 2000, cited in "Beyond the AAR: The Action Review Cycle (ARC)" by Degrosky & Parry, 2015

“The Army's After Action Review (AAR) is arguably one of the most successful organizational learning methods yet devised... Yet, most every corporate effort to graft this truly innovative practice into their culture has failed because, again and again, people reduce the living practice of AAR's to a sterile technique.” (pp.1 & 4).



AAR4) “Learning in The Thick of It” by Marylin Darling et al. Harvard Business Review

“By creating tight feedback cycles between thinking and action, AARs build an organization’s ability to succeed in a variety of conditions... In a fast-changing environment, the capacity to learn lessons is more valuable than any individual lesson learned.”

"To promote a sense of safety, senior leaders stay focused on improving performance, not on placing blame, and are the first to acknowledge their own mistakes."

"The AAR meeting addresses four questions: What were our intended results? What were our actual results? What caused our results? And what will we sustain or improve?"

"At most civilian organizations we studied, teams view the AAR chiefly as a tool for capturing lessons and disseminating them to other teams. Companies that treat AARs this way sometimes even translate the acronym as after-action report instead of after-action review, suggesting that the objective is to create a document intended for other audiences. Lacking a personal stake, team members may participate only because they’ve been told to or out of loyalty to the company. Members don’t expect to learn something useful themselves, so usually they don’t."


AAR5) The U.S. Army's After Action Reviews: Seizing the Chance to Learn

An excellent 9-page book chapter on AARs.


AAR6) Video of an AAR in Progress -- from the Wildlands Firefighting Lessons Learned Center

If you prefer, skip the preamble and fast forward to 02:30 to see the AAR.


AAR7) The Origins and Development of the National Training Center 1976-1984

“At the National Training Center the principal learning experiences were the after action reviews (AAR) that took place as soon as possible after each force-on-force and live-fire mission and at the end of a unit's rotation.” (p.101)


AAR8) The Leader's Guide to After Action Reviews (AARs)

"The AAR does not evaluate success or failure.

There are always weaknesses to improve and strengths to sustain.” (p.14).


AAR9) "Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty" by Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007

"You'll probably know when something unexpected happens because you'll feel surprised, puzzled or anxious... Trust those feelings...resist the temptation to gloss over those feelings and treat it as normal... one of the best moments for learning, a moment of the unexpected, is also one of the shortest lived moments. People in HROs [High-Reliability Organizations] try to freeze and stretch out their unexpected moments in order to learn more from them.” (p.31).


AAR10) "USAID After Action Review Technical Guidance" -- PN-ADF-360, February 2006

An AAR answers four major questions:

  1. What was expected to happen?

  2. What actually occurred?

  3. What went well, and why?

  4. What can be improved, and how?


AAR11) Jake's article in "Modern Steel Construction" magazine, September 2023

"AARs have proven so wildly effective that every branch of the military now uses them. And for some units like flight crews and Special Operations Forces, AARs are almost a religion..."


AAR12) "Do Team and Individual Debriefs Enhance Performance? A Meta-Analysis" by Tannembaum & Cerasoli, 2021.

"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.


Findings from 46 samples (N = 2,136) indicate that on average, debriefs improve effectiveness over a control group by approximately 25% (d = .67).


Organizations can improve individual and team performance by approximately 20% to 25% by using properly conducted debriefs."

(Thanks to Ben Hutchinson for posting this on his excellent research summary website here).


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