Do Debriefs Work?

“Debriefs work because they help teams learn from their experiences and self-correct over time. In a sense, debriefs are experiential learning accelerators.”

When done correctly, and with the proper science applied, debriefs can be extremely effective tools for enhancing team performance. Research shows that teams who conduct debriefs outperform others by an average of 25%! [1]

A good example is the study we conducted with U.S. naval officers. When a test group of officers were taught to conduct effective debriefs, their teams far outperformed those that had not gone through the exercise. [2]

Recent research at a Business School showed that project teams that used DebriefNow demonstrated better teamwork and subsequently better performance than their counterparts. [3]

Research also proves that debriefs help teams establish effective norms, build trust and confidence and decrease subsequent decision-making time—and are among the most efficient means of building and ensuring team effectiveness.

1. Tannenbaum, S.I. & Cerasoli, C.P. (2013). Do team and individual debriefs enhance performance? A meta-analysis. Human Factors: The Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. 55, 231-245.

This meta-analysis statistically combined the empirical results from over 30 debriefing studies. It reveals that teams that conduct debriefs outperform other teams by an average of 25%.

2. Smith-Jentsch, K.A., Cannon-Bowers, J.A., Tannenbaum, S.I., & Salas, E. (2008). Guided team self-correction: Impacts on team mental models, processes, and effectiveness. Journal of Small Group Research, 39, 303-327.

In this carefully-designed study, U.S. Naval Officers were randomly assigned to either a condition where they were trained how to conduct effective debriefs or to a control group where they received additional task-related preparation. The Officers then led their teams through a series of simulated combat exercises. Teams that were led and debriefed by the trained Officers demonstrated significantly better teamwork and over 40% better team performance than teams in the control group.

3. Eddy, E., Tannenbaum, S.I., & Mathieu, J.E. (2013). Helping teams to help themselves: Comparing two team-led debriefing methods. Personnel Psychology, 66, 975-1008.

Student projects teams were randomly assigned to either use DebriefNow to conduct structured debriefs or given instructions to conduct a basic debrief. Both groups debriefed on their own, without a facilitator or professor present. The DebriefNow teams showed significantly better teamwork, greater enthusiasm for future teaming assignments, and more confidence working on teams than their counterparts.