As summer comes to a close, many organizations (nonprofit and otherwise) are taking a step back to evaluate their summer work. They’re trying to understand what worked, what didn’t, and where they need to pivot for the future.

So, this week, I wanted to share a simple, yet effective method for helping your team do just that called an After Action Review.

If you’ve worked with me before, you know I LOVE After Action Reviews and think they’re especially useful for nonprofit leaders.

The beauty of nonprofits is that they are poised to quickly respond to community needs. However, one thing that I have observed with clients is that they get so focused on responding that they don’t take time to reflect on what they learned about their work.

It’s like ok, this project is done, let’s move on to the next one, and the next one, and the next one. And that cycle continues over and over again.

As your nonprofit responds to ever changing needs, it’s important to capture what you have learned along the way.

Taking the time to process what happened and document your learning ensures that you don’t waste time reinventing the wheel or continue doing things that are ineffective. 

It also provides you an opportunity to celebrate your successes and leverage them in the future.

Ok, so now you may be asking, ok, Christian, so what is an After Action Review?

An AAR is centered on four questions:

  1. What was expected to happen?
  2. What actually happened?
  3. What can we learn from this?
  4. What should we do next time?

So, how it works is, at the end of a project, every person who was involved comes together and answers those four questions. It’s important for everyone who was involved to participate because each person brings a unique perspective into what took place.

An informal After Action Review can be done in as little as fifteen minutes while a formal After Action Review may take one to two hours. No matter the length of time, the purpose is to extract the learnings and plan for the future.

A few things to keep in mind when conducting an After Action Review:

First, consider asking someone who wasn’t involved in the project to facilitate the meeting. This helps ensure that every participant is able to fully engage in the process.

Second, do not see the session as a time to assign blame for what did or did not happen. Instead, remain as objective as possible and simply state the facts.

I know that can be challenging, especially when projects don’t go as planned. But, try to keep in mind that the After Action Review will help you identify barriers to your progress and strategies to overcome them.

So again, here are the four questions that you should answer during an After Action Review:

  1. What happened?
  2. What was expected to happen?
  3. What can we learn from this?
  4. What should we do next time?

I hope this was helpful! And, if you’d like a copy of my After Action Review template, send me a message!