Running Quarterly Debriefs Across the Team

The Barrel Partners and I meet with our Team Leads to debrief and align every quarter. We've been evolving the format for years now — this quarter was no exception.

When I led the design team as Creative Director, I met with them quarterly to debrief on wins, lessons learned, and what we hoped to accomplish in the future. I appreciated the time hearing from them, but we were operating in a silo. There was no system in place for sharing the takeaways. On top of that, the design team was the only one following this ritual.

Earlier this year, our CEO Peter and I discussed a system where every manager (Team Lead) would facilitate a debrief with their respective teams following the same format. They would synthesize the takeaways and bring them back to the partners and other Team Leads. We decided to use this quarter's session to experiment with this system.

Our goal with the new system was to:

  1. Give every member of the executing team space to reflect.
  2. Create a channel for their thoughts on feedback, lessons learned, and opportunity areas to funnel up to leadership regularly. (Related: Noticing the Gap Between Leadership & the Executing Team)
  3. Align our Partners and Team Leads on future initiatives and opportunity areas.

To prepare for their respective teams debrief sessions, each Team Lead sent an email to their team asking them to prepare at least three thoughts on the following questions:

  • How has our discipline/team grown over the last quarter? What did we accomplish?
  • What lessons did we learn as a team? What could have gone better?
  • What feedback do you have to improve our team collaboration, culture, and value to the agency/clients? Consider feedback for your teammates, manager, and leadership.

In each session, the Team Lead led the debrief, going to each team member one by one, asking them to share their thoughts. Notes were captured in real-time using a template in Notion. Here is a screenshot:

To prepare for the session with the Partners and other Team Leads, each Team Lead synthesized their debrief notes into a consistent format, pulling themes from the three questions. Then, identifying focus areas for the coming quarter, taking what they learned and is top of mind into account.

Below is how the template is structured:

  1. Growth Areas: The top 3 areas that your team has shown growth over the last quarter
  2. Lessons Learned: The top 3 lessons learned last quarter
  3. Feedback We Should Consider: The top 3 themes from your team’s feedback
  4. Focus for Next Quarter: What are 3-5 focus areas for your team’s growth next quarter?

In the meeting last Thursday, each Team Lead had 30-45 minutes to lead a discussion, using the above format as a guide. Everyone had printed copies of the notes to avoid device distractions. We tried to make this more of a discussion than a presentation, with everyone asking questions and commenting throughout the session.

Overall, the session was a success, receiving positive feedback from everyone. We were happy to hear similar themes across the teams and to have good discussions around important topics.

In terms of the next steps:

  • Each Team Lead will share notes with their respective team. I am also thinking about the best way to share notes among everyone.
  • I will be checking in on to-do items that came from our discussion.
  • I will also connect with the Team Leads to align on priorities for the quarter and what we can accomplish together.

I am excited to continue this debrief system next quarter. Over time, I hope it will be a powerful tool for team alignment and prioritization.

That said, I already have some ideas about how we can tweak the system for improvements:

  • When leading the discussion, ask the Team Leads to set the stage with their perspective on how the debrief went and general sentiment from the team
  • Provide guidance around how to synthesize notes for more consistency in discussions
  • Make sure any team members on PTO during their team debrief are able to share input
  • Think about how we might make sessions more interactive
  • Design a system for prioritization and next actions following the session

This post originally appeared in Edition No. 096 of my newsletter. Subscribe here.

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