Learning & Development, Talent

What We Can Learn from the Military’s AAR

Businesses and the employees who populate them are often so busy moving from project to project that they don’t have time to sit down and evaluate what went well and what went wrong.


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In other words, they often don’t go through the exercise of having a lessons-learned meeting. Even when lessons-learned meetings are held, they often don’t achieve the objective of providing a thorough review.

What’s an AAR?

Mike Harris advocates for companies to simulate the military’s After-Action Review (AAR). The name sounds pretty straightforward, but just what exactly is an AAR? Harris points to an old (1993), but still relevant, circular from the Department of the Army, that provides a definition.
“An after-action review (AAR) is a professional discussion of an event, focused on performance standards, that enables soldiers to discover for themselves what happened, why it happened, and how to sustain strengths and improve on weaknesses. It is a tool leaders and units can use to get maximum benefit from every mission or task.”

The Benefits of AAR

According to the circular, the AAR provides three specific benefits:

  • Candid insights into specific soldier, leader, and unit strengths and weaknesses from various perspectives;
  • Feedback and insight critical to battle-focused training; and
  • Details often lacking in evaluation reports alone.

Harris notes that there are two types of AARs—formal and informal. In the military, whether a review is formal or informal will depend upon the size of the unit involved, with smaller units tending to have informal reviews.

Formal vs. Informal AARs

Formal AARs are planned in advance, according to Harris, and involve some significant preparation. “There will be a reproduction of the training area (either on a terrain model, or sand table, a map blow-up or a projection), dedicated observer controllers (OCs) and are conducted where they can be supported most effectively.”
Formal AARs will also involve the use of data which may have been gathered through information AARs, or from smaller units. In contrast to formal AARs, informal AARs “are conducted immediately after a training event by the internal chain of command, at the training site, and require less preparation.”
Even though the stakes are obviously higher in a military vs. a business environment, there are many similarities between how the military operates and how the business world operates. That’s why adapting military-style organizational management strategies can be a great way to help boost business goals.
Here we’ve described what AARs are. In a follow-up post, we’ll discuss how to implement and execute them in business settings.

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