“Well, it’s been a long day. Let’s skip the debrief, because I know everyone’s tired. See you all next month!”

It had been a long day. As part of the leadership class I’m in, we’d:

  • Heard from NASA scientists at NASA Ames HQ
  • Gone inside the world’s largest wind tunnel
  • Toured Astrobee Lab, where they design and build robots for the International Space Station
  • Visited Future Flight Central, the 360-degree SimLabs that simulates an LAX air traffic control tower
  • Learned about the Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing, and touring their facilities
  • Toured an HC-130J Combat King II aircraft and a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter — the actual vehicles that perform rescue missions!

Yes, we were tired (we’d had to arrive by 7:15am!), but we were all buzzing by the end of the day!

As a participant, I was chomping at the bit for a debrief, but having been dismissed, everyone started streaming off to find their cars.

As a facilitator, I was deeply disappointed at the missed opportunity.

As I drove home, I reflected (pun intended) that I’ve been noticing that this tendency to cut off the debrief is pretty common, which is a big problem for any leader who wants a culture of learning, growth, and improvement.

Here’s the truth: reflection time is not just a nice-to-have; it’s a critical element of any learning experience. In fact, in order to truly learn from an experience there must be time for reflection.

Just as any savvy team leader would debrief after a completed project, in order to capture what went well, what didn’t, and what you would do differently next time, experiential learning needs reflection time to be fully integrated and translated into insights and action.

The cycle looks like this:


Experience > Reflection > Insights > Action


First, you have an experience. Then you reflect on the experience, which leads to insights. The insights then enable you to take new action. Over time, this cycle can lead to powerful transformation.

“But Melissa, we can’t afford the time in the agenda for reflection!”

I would argue that you can’t afford not to include reflection time in your agenda, and should rethink your agenda to start with time for reflection first, before cramming anything else in.

Plus, reflection / debrief time doesn’t have to be that long (though depending on the circumstance, it could actually be longer than the experience you’re debriefing!)

A little reflection is better than no reflection at all. Keep in mind that there are ways to allow everyone an opportunity to reflect, without having to take the time for each individual to share with the group.

The most important thing is to give people that opportunity to reflect, so the experience doesn’t just fall away as a nice memory (“Hmm.. that was a fun moment in a helicopter…”), without insights, action, or learning.


If you’d like help with your debriefing steps, or designing an experiential event, experience, or program that leads to reflection, insights, action, and ultimately transformation, let’s talk!


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