After Action Review (AAR)

  • One of your most important responsibilities as a Leader is to develop your team. To do that effectively, you must use every means available to make sure your Team members actually learn from their activities.
  • People learn best when they “discover” an answer or solution on their own. Learning is most effective when you train and evaluate at the same time.

What is an After Action Review?


An AAR is: a review of events that allows team members to discover what happened during the events, actions, and planning; why it happened, and how to improve the results the next time you perform the same, or similar, task. The purpose of the AAR is two-fold:

  • It allows team members to discover for themselves what happened during the and why
  • It helps team members identify how to improve going forward

What does an After Action Review do for you and your team members?

  • Focus on learning objectives
  • Helps identify strengths and areas needing improvement
  • Emphasize achieving organizational standards
  • Encourages team members to learn from their experiences
  • Allows a number of team members to participate and share common experiences and lessons learned

The AAR is a professional discussion, conducted after each critical activity, which focuses directly on goal accomplishment. It stresses meeting standards and does not determine winners or losers. It involves team members and leaders in the analysis and it links the lessons learned to subsequent and future tasks. It is important to remember that an AAR is not a critique. A critique has only one viewpoint. This does not allow for others’ observations, discussion of events, and comments. This means that critiques are less effective than AARs in realizing the most learning from the review of a specific goal, task, or assignment. Moreover, the limited and often biased point of view of a critique prevents the open discussion of events. A critique also prevents team members from learning from their mistakes. AARs are not critiques because AARs do not determine success or failure. When you use an AAR, you avoid lecturing your team members on what went wrong, and this makes it easier for them to learn and develop.


What are the different parts of an AAR?

  • Review what should have happened
  • Establish what did happen
  • Determine what was correct or incorrect with what happened
  • Determine how you should do the task differently the next time

First, you and your team members review the plan to determine what should have happened. Once complete, identify what actually did happen. Here, it’s important to include the thoughts and viewpoints of others that may not have directly participated in the mission/task but who observed or were affected by the results. During this step, it’s also important to be ‘brutally honest’ and not fixate on assigning blame for any part deemed a failure. The goal is to improve, not to identify a scapegoat.


The third part of the AAR is very important because this is where you determine what went right and what went wrong with the mission/task. This is when you as the leader/facilitator must be careful and not let the AAR turn into a critique session.


Finally, you and your team must determine how you will perform the task differently next time. You play a critical role in guiding the AAR discussion so that the conclusions reached are technically and tactically sound, morally and ethically straight. You will actually lead your team in determining how to perform the mission the next time to achieve improved results. AARs provide immediate feedback to your Team and reinforce and increase the learning that takes place as a result of the task or event.


What are the three steps in the execution sequence of an AAR?

  • Plan
  • Prepare
  • Conduct

As a leader, you must know these three steps in order to derive the maximum benefit from the AAR process. The first thing you must do is develop a plan for your AAR. Without one, you may fail to provide your team with the needed. As a part of the planning stage, there are certain steps you must take:

  • Establish an objective for the AAR
  • Review the action plan
  • Identify the participants and their roles
  • Select the meeting location and time
  • Assemble AAR tools-something to record the information gathered, i.e. overhead or marker board
  • Draft an AAR plan

It is important that you begin the plan by establishing what you want to accomplish. You should also review the action plan and identify who will attend. Select your location and ensure that it is large enough to accommodate the size of the group. Determine whether or not you will require meeting aids, i.e. overheads, markers, marker board. The final step in the planning process is drafting the AAR plan and preparing to conduct it.


How do you prepare for an AAR?

  • Review the objectives of the mission or task (mission/plan)
  • Execute the mission or task
  • Organize the AAR site
  • Collect the information-report on the mission/task accomplished
  • Organize the AAR meeting

Your preparation for conducting an AAR actually begins before you set out to achieve your goals or tasks! Your notes and preparation must start from the beginning and continue up to the actual AAR. Focus on actions and events related to the key objectives and keep good notes during execution phase. Be sure you clearly know and understand the standards that must be met to achieve success.


Once the task is complete, identify and prepare the AAR meeting location and assemble your resources. Finally, ensure that you organize and review what you are going to say and do during the AAR. A discussion outline is a way to organize your notes and observations in an orderly sequence.


AAR Discussion Outline

  • Introduction and Ground rules
  • Review of the plan and what should have happened
  • Summary of what did happen
  • Discussion of key issues
  • Discussion of how to improve or maintain performance; identification of strengths and areas needing improvement
  • Summary and conclusion

A discussion outline helps organize your thoughts and determines what direction you want the discussion to take in order to achieve the desired results. Once you develop an outline, you should prepare open-ended, specific questions that will lead the discussion in the direction you want it to go. Lastly, you should review the outline thoroughly prior to conducting the AAR.


The Final Step!

What important points should you cover when conducting an AAR?

  • Restate the goals and objectives
  • Seek maximum participation
  • Generate discussion
  • Determine how to perform the next time

The first thing you should do is restate the mission and orient on the key objectives. This brings the AAR into focus for all participants and tells everyone what should have happened during the mission. Ensure that you receive comments from all the participants. Maximizing participation makes for a successful After Action Review. The way to increase participation is to stimulate discussion among your team members. Use the following techniques to help stimulate the discussion.

AAR Discussion Guides:

  • Ask leading and thought-provoking questions
  • Ask why it happened-be sure to fix problems, not blame.
  • Ask how they could have done better
  • Record pertinent information

Phrase the question in such a way that the information discussed is what you want brought out. Prepare yourself to ask follow-up questions to elicit additional information. Involve team members and if possible, anyone else who played a role in the accomplishment of the mission or task. Spread your questions around so that everyone in your team participates. Good questions can help determine what went right and wrong during the mission. You can discuss errors by asking why the team made certain decisions and what alternative decisions they could have made.


Keep this part of the AAR positive and be careful not to embarrass your team. This is when the AAR can disintegrate into a critique session if the leader is not careful. You can avoid this problem by entering the discussion only to guide it back on track when necessary. Keep the team oriented on the by facilitating and asking questions to keep everyone focused.


The last part of conducting the AAR is to determine how you should perform the task differently next time. You do this by continually summarizing and linking the lessons learned to future and related missions, tasks, and events. You need to determine what happened, why it happened, and what the team can do differently next time to improve performance and raise standards. Conclude the AAR by listing those areas that you and your team need to work on. By the end of the AAR, your team should clearly understand what was good, bad, and average about the outcomes and their individual performance and contributions.

Lead the way!


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