The Three Debriefing Questions

Barry Sweeny, 2010

SHOWING and then explicitly TEACHING proteges HOW to invest in others’ success is what makes the greatest difference.

Once we have given someone the gift of a powerful, positive learning experience, we must stay alert for the right moment to help them consider how best to give that gift to those that THEY support or serve in their own work.  In this case, timing is critical and we must not prematurely push the one we have gifted to take this final step. However, if we wish our work with learners to bear fruit with others, we MUST some day take this last step.

How can we show someone how to actually translate their own learning into other’s learning?

This concept has many applications. Here are a few to help you think about how these three debriefing questions could be used in your own setting:

  • EDUCATION – If the protege is a new teacher, they need to improve their ability to support student learning and performance improvement. Use these 3 questions to help them transfer their learning as a protege into student learning.
  • MANAGEMENT – If the protege is a supervisor or manager, they need to also be a great staff developer, helping subordinates discover and develop their talents and skills,.These three questions will help you get them thinking about how to use what they are learning as a protege in their work as managers.
  • PROFESSIONAL SERVICES – If the protege is a lawyer, social worker, financial planner or banker, accountant, dentist, etc. they serve clients. A part of that service are tasks related to client “education”. Use these 3 questions to help them transfer their learning as a protege into better ways to support the learning and success of their clients.

To do so we need to use what I call the “Three Debriefing Questions”. These three questions are used to close out any formal conversation we have with the person whose learning we have tried to support. Using these three questions is one of the most powerful mentoring strategies for improved performance that I know.

“The Three Debriefing Questions”

1. What have you learned from our work together? (Facilitate and clarify answering that and then move on to the 2nd question.)

2. (Then say) “I want to become even better at supporting your learning. To do that, I need your feed back”. (Now it’s time for the 2nd question.) “What is it that I did in our work together that helped your learning?”   (Facilitate and clarify answering that and then move on to the third question. That could take some time for them to shift their thinking to you from themselves.)

3. (Then say,) “If that was important for your learning, I will bet it is also vital for others’ learning too.”  (Now, ask the 3rd question) “How can we use this insight to improve others’ learning?”  (Facilitate and clearly answer that and then make plans to implement the improvements in your work.”

Finally, follow up to ensure that they have the support they deserve to solve the problems that always will accompany change, and to develop mastery of the new approaches you designed together.