Facilitating Team Debriefs: How to End The Year On The Right Note



As joyous as year end can be, I’m sure we’re all feeling the strain of finishing up projects, closing out budgets, and trying to build a strong foundation to kick-off 2016 with.

But in the midst of ‘wrapping’ everything up (pun 100% intended) and transitioning into some well deserved time off, it can be really easy to neglect ‘tying the bow’ on your team and culture. While throwing a magnificent holiday bash is valuable and fun, it’s not enough to make sure everyone is ending the year in a good headspace.

We’re talking about reflective debriefs, and if you want to finish the year with your team feeling heard, feeling confident in what’s to come, and clear on what they learned in the midst of all their hard work, then don’t miss the opportunity to run one. There’s no right way to do it, but we’ve sketched up a few different formats to help set you up to lead your team in an effective one. You don’t need to be the team lead, you don’t need to be an expert facilitator, and you don’t need to have a ton of time.

How To Run A Good Debrief

– Block the time early – debriefs are easy meetings to scratch at the last second. Block the time early, and ask your team to respect it.

– Set the tone up front – debriefs can get negative and invoke complaining if you’re not careful, so as a facilitator let people know the meeting is about translating reflection into new and actionable behaviors for next year. Cut off negative ramblers, and capture concrete lessons to learn from.

– Focus on the Good too – Spend an equal amount on positive and negative feedback. It’s just as important to hear what excited people, what went well, and where the team excelled. Be deliberate in this balance.

– Blameless is Rule #1 – Avoid finger pointing or attaching names too directly to outcomes. Frame it as a team debrief, not individual feedback (that’s a different type of session).

5 Fail Safe Debrief Structures

1. Pluses / Deltas

This is a fundamental framework for debriefing. Have a facilitator lead a discussion making a list of ‘pluses’, things that went well, and ‘deltas’, or things to improve or change next time around. It’s simple but ensures a balance of positive and negative feedback, and can be used in conjunction with most any other feedback framework.

2. The Hotseat

Have the team sit in a circle. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes and ask everyone to capture 3 pluses and 3 deltas for every other person in the circle. Ask people to also capture feedback for themselves as well. Encourage people to be as specific as possible, and establish a tone of positive intention for one another up front.

3. Product / Market / Team fit

This is a very concrete format for debriefing that includes a review of the business as a whole, and not just team members. Made popular by Marc Andreessen, this framework can be used to reflect on how your product or offering did this year, how the market and customer demand has shifted, and how things have gone with your team. Ideally, where these three meet in the middle is where your business opportunity lies. We use it as a way to ask ourselves what happened this past year that we can learn from for next year.


4. Customer / Content / Culture

This is similar to Product/Market/Team, but might feel more relevant depending on your type of organization. What feedback, stories and moments did you hear from your customers this year? What feedback and self-analysis do you have on the content and thinking you did this year? What feedback and key moments happened within the culture of the team? Make sure to highlight key takeaways to help set goals for next year.


5. Impact vs. Enthusiasm

We use this simple framework as a way for prioritizing ideas, but it’s also great for reflection. Have everyone brainstorm a list of initiatives, projects, or other output that happened throughout the year. Then, as a group, plot them based on Impact (what value did it create for the organization or in the world) and enthusiasm (how exciting was it as a team member to work on it). After they’re all posted, ask everyone to step back and reflect on what’s up there. As a facilitator, drive conversations around what you’re seeing. What were people most excited about? What created most impact for the organization? And most importantly, how might we replicate more high impact / high enthusiasm initiatives for next year?

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Final Thoughts

Debriefs are valuable because turn emotional thinking into useful reflection. As a facilitator, using debriefs as an end cap for an experience is an invaluable tool for making sure you end on a good note. As such, trying working them into the end of each week or month as a way to drive consistent reflection and open communication. For us, we’ve begun having our ‘Weekly Celebrations’ at 5:30pm each Friday. It’s just 30 minutes to have a beer and talk about what worked great, and what we can do better next week. No matter what happened that week, it turns the conversation into something positive, and there’s no better way to finish a week than on that note.

If you’re interested in learning more about facilitating effective debriefs and creative sessions, check out our Facilitation and Design Thinking workshops – each tackles these types of sessions from different angles.

Happy Holidays + Stay awesome,


Andy Hagerman
[email protected]
  • Nomthandazo
    Posted at 02:18h, 03 November Reply

    I would like to attend your workshops on debriefing sessions as I am the one who is conducting this sessions for my team

    • Erin Lamberty
      Posted at 10:03h, 07 November Reply

      Hi there! Thanks for reaching out. We offer a Facilitation Bootcamp that covers many methods for running groups sessions effectively, including debriefs. Our next one is coming up on Friday 12/9. Hope to see you in the workshop!

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