I would like to finish my current run on AAR blogs with a short story which I hope will show you how powerful it is and the benefits of both applying the system and embedding it throughout your organisation. It is one of the many times that AAR has been of demonstrable benefit to me and my team.
My Regiment was on operations in Iraq and some camera phone video footage came into our possession. It was the sort of stuff that can be found on the internet and quite openly on social media if you are so inclined to look for it but this was slightly different as we knew that it had come from somebody who had been engaged in attacks against us. It showed how this person and his team were setting themselves up for and then executing their plans. The footage came to us in the senior leadership team, we played it through, looked round and agreed that it didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know. I did however say “Let the rest of the team look at it anyway” and it was duly distributed further.
We had been guilty of looking at that footage through a single lens, one based on our current understanding and we allowed what we saw to reinforce what we believed. Fortunately, one of the more junior members of the Regiment came at it from a different angle. He decided that his team should conduct an AAR on why we had been attacked in that instance. He started with the premise that we had not gone out to be attacked and so being attacked was an event worthy of an AAR. Two hours later, he came in with his commander and shared his conclusions: we were employing a technique that whilst designed to protect us, made us vulnerable to this type of attack because it made certain crew members easy to target. And, because he had followed the AAR process, he had also come up with a solution. We considered it there and then and within 3 hours, the message had been passed across every unit in the Brigade (some 5000+ people) and remedial action was implemented immediately. Did it save lives? I can’t be absolutely certain but I’m pretty sure that it did. If we had all relied on a casual and unstructured “What does this tell us?” approach, the outcomes might have been very different.
Reflecting on this example reminded me:
- That the bosses don’t have all the answers
- What a powerful tool the AAR can be
- How important it is to learn how to use it
- How important it is to have the discipline to use it, and
- How important it is to embed across the whole of the organisation