After Action Review (as used by U.S. Army) LO27428

From: Marilyn Darling (
Date: 10/17/01

Replying to LO27402 --

Sarah, thank you for raising the topic of the Army's efforts to "become a
learning organization." In fact, I honestly don't know what it means to
decide to become one. But we chose to do the in-depth study that Rick
mentioned because we saw that their 20-year old learning practice was one
of the best, and certainly the longest-standing, double-loop learning
practices in existence. So I'd say that whoever has decided that the Army
should create a special new initiative to become a LO is jumping on a
20-year-old bandwagon.

The AAR process got its start in 1981 at the National Training Center, and
has been in constant use there since that time. What we love about it as a
learning practice is its simplicity, its localness, and its discipline. No
fancy language. No complex theoretical concepts. And a nice tie-in to
doctrine, so that validated lessons (lessons that have resulted in a
change of behavior, and that change of behavior has created the results
that would have been predicted by the team's thinking) have a way of
becoming part of how the Army does what it does. It is this interesting,
living relationship to doctrine that keeps Peter Senge interested in the
Army as a learning organization.

I also recommend Richard Pascale's description, as well as David Garvin's
10-page description in his book Learning In Action. A warning, however:
Most people understand the AAR as a self-contained tool... something that
involves getting together after an event and asking a specific set of
questions (what was our intent? what happened? why? what do we sustain?
what do we improve?). This is only a small part of what makes the AAR such
a powerful tool within the Army. If you want to understand what makes the
Army's method work, study the way it is employed at the National Training
Center in the context of a month-long rotation where units iterate through
a series of plan-act-reflect-plan cycles, against their "Battlefield
Operating Systems," which creates a lexicon for their learning process.

What might be especially interesting to this community in terms of
leadership, is that it is the soldiers who "grew up" using the discipline
of AARs over the past 20 years who see this process as second nature. Some
of the best applications of AARs that we have seen in the corporate world
are being done by retired Army officers of that era. Folks who "grew up"
in the Army prior to that time can see the value of the process, but it
may not be second nature to them. So this has some interesting
implications for when and how to develop leadership practices inside of a
corporate culture.

If anyone knows of organizations in the corporate or non-profit sector who
are finding success using AARs, we'd love to hear about them.

Marilyn Darling
Signet Consulting Group
-- Strategies for Corporate Learning --


"Marilyn Darling" <>

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