I was delighted to hear that the current issue of Harvard Business Review contains a long-awaited article by Marilyn Darling, Charles Parry, and Joseph Moore, Learning in the Thick of It. It gives an insightful view of the AAR (After Action Review) process as it is practiced by the US Army’s National Training Center. Marilyn and her colleagues at Signet Consulting have been developing the Emergent Learning practice that brings the discipline to businesses. The core of the process is to elicit learnings from an experience that can be immediately applied in the next round of activities.
Nortel Networks was an early adopter of the Emergent Learning practice — that is where I first met and worked with Marilyn. We trained over 20 people in the method and used it as a core part of our knowledge management program. It’s one of those methods that, once learned, becomes ingrained in your thought and learning processes. The significant success factors, highlighted in the conclusion of the article, are particularly worth repeating here:
1) Lessons must first and foremost benefit the team that extracts them.
2) The AAR process must start at the beginning of the activity.
3) Lessons must link explicitly to future actions.
4) Leaders must hold everyone, especially themselves, accountable for action.
I also consider a method like this as an essential tool in the toolkit for building networked organizations. Why? Because the process requires conversation, honest dialogue and collaboration. People who use methods like this learn to know and trust each other, forging solid network bonds.