Debriefing - Closing the space

Goals and Setting

Personally debriefing is about reflection, learning, transfer and sharing experience, for a group it is about conclusions, decisions and action.  After an exercise people might reflect on their own - to support them, debrief your session and summarize what was vital to them, what they want to share or they intend to do next. 

Debriefing takes some time at the end of your session, so reserve 5 to 15 minutes. How long it might take depends on the method you choose, the number of questions you ask and the amount of people who attended your session. 


What to debrief is about asking questions. Before you start your session select the questions you like to ask. Here are my favorite questions: 

By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Monica Nelson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. What was interesting?
  2. What was fascinating? 
  3. What was surprising? 
  4. When did you feel uncomfortable? 
  5. What did you learn?
  6. What of the learned can you use at your workplace? 
  7. What will you make different in the next 48 hours? 
  8. What happend when...? 
  9. How did it feel when...?
  10. What would have happened if...?

I recommend you take 3-5 questions to ask. Questions should be chosen in context of the exercise. Chose a mixture of emotion, observation and learning. People react different on same questions. People differ in observation, emotion and conclusions might lead to further insights and confusion, which both is good soil for learning.


How to debrief is about the method you select for debriefing. Usually you should give people a short break. I like to give first individual exercise before people share with the group. These are my favorite methods for debriefing:

a) Open keyword format: ask the questions to the participants and document the answers to the questions on a flip chart. Usually people need to share their experience. A few people talk a lot, you might need to stop them. Watch for silent peoples signs that they want to contribute. You could ask them, so that it is easier for them to share.

b) Closed keyword format: prepare a starfish retrospective flip chart and use your debriefing questions instead of the starfish questions. Let people write down their experience on notes. Give them 1-2 minutes to write it down, maybe you want to limit the number of notes per question to 1 or 2. As soon as finished the first person stands up, sticks the notes to the flip chart and says one sentence about it.

c) Lighting talk: every person gets 1-2 minutes to talk about their experience. Provide the questions before they start and give them a short break before you start to reflect. 

A few words

People might be disappointed if they are unable to share their experiences, so close the topics you've started. Debriefing is all about learning opportunities, so take it serious.