I’m guessing that lots of you will have been cheering loudly, like i was, as we watched the English ruby team beat Australia on Saturday. Afterwards as we got on with our weekends, slightly happier than before, the England squad will have started preparing for their next match. As well the physical recovery process, Eddie Jones will have planned an After Action Review (AAR) to ensure his team are able to extract the maximum learning possible from their time on the pitch and identify changes and improvements for the match next weekend.
His version of AAR is likely to be different in style to the ones I lead, but its intent to learn from experience will be the same. One of the accounts about the origins of AAR comes from the sport of baseball. When the US military needed to adapt quickly during the challenges of the Vietnam war they adapted the “Chalk and Talk” debrief commonly used after baseball matches, to learn from the troops on the ground. US Generals, like sporting coaches, understand that “no plan survives engagement with the enemy” and that there is rich material for improving performance from understanding the gaps that emerge between the plan and the actual experience.
In a high performing team like a national rugby squad we would expect that the pursuit of excellence would involve taking time out to review the films of the match and listen to each of the players’ accounts of what they saw and did. It feels instinctively right that as well as the bar-room chat, there will be a structured process to ensure learning is articulated and translated into a plan. But what about our own business critical projects? How might we pursue excellence, given that we probably don’t have the time and resources of England Rugby?
Increase the value you place on learning from experience
Eddie Jones will be consulting closely with his coaching team about what they have learnt from watching New Zealand play in Japan. Their insights will help with planning the approach the England squad will take and as well as his team selection.
Why not put learning at the top of your own team meeting agenda for a fixed period to support a reset of the mindset? Ask each person to answer the question “What is the most valuable thing you have learnt this week?” and benefit from the richer picture that results.
Shift the emphasis in staff appraisals
Rugby commentators frequently talk about how certain members of the squad are learning to be more disciplined in the maul and in their tackles as they gain experience of playing with the worlds’ best. This “growth mind set” can be applied to staff appraisals, when people can be encouraged to articulate what they are learning to do better. Shift the emphasis away from performance reporting and towards continuous improvement instead.
Seize the unexpected for learning
The surprisingly good and exciting rugby played by the World Cup hosts’ Japan, is a source of much commentary in the newspapers and is attracting lots of interest. Any workplace event that surprises you will provide a similar rich source of material for learning and improvement. Maybe the staff engagement score is high? Explore why. Maybe you won a major contract. Hold an AAR to find out how to repeat the success.
Learning from experience is part of being human, but it is only when we structure the process and access other people’s experiences as well, that we can multiply the benefits tenfold. Let’s hope that England make great use of their learning for the next match.