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After Action Reviews: How To Transfer Knowledge within Your Team (Part Two)

April 13, 2011

Updated August 26, 2014

I noted in the introduction post to this series that there are a variety of ways to transfer and retain critical corporate knowledge. The challenge is to determine which methods are most suitable to your situation.

Today, I’m looking at what are called After Action Reviews (AARs), created by the U.S. Army. The following two links provide useful information on AARs. The first link is the U.S. Army’s After Action Review Technical Guidance. This second link contains an excellent summary of AARs, along with other useful information (don’t get put off by the headline banner, which is cute).

AARs have proven to be a popular method of achieving a high level of leveraged knowledge within a team. A number of companies have adopted this knowledge transfer methodology following its success in the U.S. Army (e.g., Bechtel).

An AAR is a facilitated exercise, conducted immediately after a project is completed. However, it may also be held during certain stages of a project or an event.

It can be carried out virtually, as well as using the traditional face-to-face approach. In fact, the virtual aspect of post-event, project reviews in the context of dispersed global work teams should be appealing to companies.

The primary focus is on retaining the knowledge within the team. This is a vital distinction from other knowledge transfer methods. In addition, an AAR is short and to the point, for example, half an hour or less; perhaps a maximum of one to two hours. Some firms use a series of very short AARs during major projects (e.g., daily) to ensure that knowledge is not lost along the way.

During an AAR, a team member facilitates and members take personal notes. The team also documents the discussion for future projects or events.

For an AAR to be successful, in the sense of transferring and maintaining important knowledge, the team’s members must speak openly, without fear of judgement or recrimination. This means that BOTH tacit and explicit knowledge are captured. Tacit knowledge refers to the contextual information that resides in people’s heads, while explicit knowledge pertains to the codified, recorded knowledge throughout the organization.

So what happens at an AAR? The discussion addresses:

• What were objectives of the project, event or incident?
• What took place? (e.g., were the objectives reached?)
• Why did this happen? (i.e., what were the eventual outcomes)

Let’s pause for a moment. There are so many applications for an AAR. Think of paramedics, firefighters and police officers. How about crisis counselors or teachers? Sales teams? Project engineers? Anyone remember the BP Gulf oil spill?

Over time, AARs have a cumulative effect by building a documented knowledge base. Although the information captured during an AAR is retained within the team, there are occasions when it may be shared with other teams or transferred to a corporate knowledge database (e.g., intranet sites).

Personal Experience:

Many (many) years ago when I was a new manager in my early thirties and leading a team of economists and support staff, one of the activities I initiated was holding post-project debriefings (for want of a better expression).

At the time I was a total neophyte in management, but with a solid background in my field as a subject matter expert. It seemed the right thing to do to get my team together offsite so that we could talk about what the outcome of a specific project: what went well, what didn’t, what did we learn and what could we do better next time. I’d never heard of an After Action Review, and I was pretty unsophisticated when it came to holding team debriefs. But they were successful. That’s the point. Make an effort. Don’t be slick. Do your best.

So don’t be intimidated by the fancy consultants or what you read in books. If you’re leading a team, or a member of a team, regardless of your setting be yourself and remember that you’re working with human beings, not robots. Determine with your team YOUR best way to learn from your experiences.

How are you sharing information within your team? Take a moment to share your experiences.

All experience is great provided you live through it. If it kills you, you’ve gone too far.
-Alice Neel

Next Post: Building Organizational Know-How: How to Transfer Knowledge (Part Three)

Click here to download my complimentary e-book A Blueprint for Learning & Knowledge Creation: Staying Ahead of Your Competitors in a Turbulent World”.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2011 11:25 am

    Thanks Lynne!

  2. April 14, 2011 9:12 am

    I’m sure your team appreciated your after action reviews. I would have, if I’d been on your team.


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