Ditch the Lessons Learned term

How many of you have seen an meeting request with the title “Lessons Learned”?  What goes through your mind?  When I see it, I usually think “Uh Oh, someone is in trouble.”

What I really find ironic about these meetings is that the organizer always starts the meeting with two things:  “This purpose of this meeting is not to point fingers” and “Let’s start by what went well”.  Let’s face it, most of the time the purpose is to point fingers and starting on what went well is a politically correct way to soften the blow.

So what do I think should happen?  Simple, ditch the term Lessons Learned.  Instead, have a Project Debrief, after every project.  Think about this for a minute.  First, every project, even one that was successful, has something that could be improved.  Every project has something that went really well for which someone should be recognized.  By doing a debrief after every project, it becomes the norm and people will not be as defensive as they would if a project had gone wrong.   Second, by calling it a debrief, you taking the sting out of the meeting.  Coupled with doing this after every meeting, the team will start getting something positive out of the meeting.  The term Lessons Learned by itself implies that something went wrong.

Just think about a baseball practice.  The coach yells out, “man on first and second, two outs” and then hits the ball to the right fielder.  The right fielder catches the ball and throws it to second base.  The coach stops the play and has everyone freeze.  He then uses that as a learning tool to help everyone understand where the cutoff should be, who should be the cutoff, where the first and third baseman should be, who should be backing up who.  It’s the same principle with the Project Debrief.  You want to help people grow.  You want to help people learn.  You want to reinforce the positive.  This is especially true, with inexperienced employees.

This is the essence of true coaching.


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