The importance of operational execution cannot be overstated when you’re running a high-growth startup. We’re often working on numerous ambitious projects, making product updates, speaking to clients and investors, and juggling multiple engagements simultaneously. ,In other words — business as usual in the world of a startup. But how do we ensure that these projects and ventures are successful? The answer lies in preparation and planning including effective briefing and debriefing.

What is a Briefing?

Let’s define our terms. A briefing is a focused, concise meeting where information about the project or engagement is delivered from the lead to the team members or stakeholders. The primary purpose of a briefing is to inform and align the team on specific topics, objectives, or strategies.

Key Characteristics of a Briefing:

  • Clarity and Conciseness: A briefing is clear and to the point. It avoids unnecessary details, focusing instead on the essential information that the audience needs to know.
  • Directional: It provides direction and guidance. Unlike a discussion or brainstorming session, a briefing is not typically a two-way dialogue. It’s about conveying a specific message or set of instructions.
  • Informative: The content of a briefing is informative, often covering the what, why, and how of a project or situation. It might include objectives, background information, expected outcomes, and any relevant context.
  • Alignment: A key goal of a briefing is to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It’s about aligning the team’s understanding and approach towards a common goal or task.
  • Focused on the Audience’s Needs: A good briefing is tailored to its audience. It considers what the audience already knows, what they need to know, and how best to convey that information effectively.
  • Preparation: Effective briefings are well-prepared. The person giving the briefing should have a clear idea of the message they want to convey and how they plan to communicate it.

The Power of an Effective Briefing

Good briefings are hard to execute. They require clarity, vision, and the ability to distill complex ideas into understandable directives. However, the payoff for a well-executed briefing is immense. It sets the tone for the project and aligns the team with a clear direction.

A good briefing is like a quarterback calling the play. The quarterback calls the play and that tells the rest of the offense what to expect, who needs to do what, and where everyone needs to participate. It’s not a discussion or a debate — it’s a directive. A briefing is where the leader explains the what, why, and how of a project or a new client engagement. Again, this is not the stage for brainstorming or collective ideation – that’s a planning session, which we will dig into separately. The briefing is about providing clarity and direction. Questions should be encouraged, but only to ensure that everyone is on the same page, not to stimulate debate.

What is a Debriefing?

Debriefings are the bookends to your project’s story. They occur after the engagement is over and serve a critical purpose: learning. This is where you dissect what happened, identify what worked well, and more importantly, pinpoint areas for improvement.

Use debriefings to course-correct and to build a repository of best practices. This reflective process is not about assigning blame but about fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Recognizing successes is as important as identifying missteps, as it helps in replicating effective strategies in future projects.

Institutionalizing Briefings and Debriefings

To truly benefit from briefings and debriefings, they should be woven into the fabric of your organization’s operational procedures. This is where Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) come into play. SOPs are not just documents; they are a shared understanding of how things are done in your business. By defining a structure for briefings and debriefings in your SOPs, you create a framework that ensures consistency and effectiveness in these practices.

Having a well-documented SOP for briefings and debriefings leads to improved performance across the team. It turns important practices into common knowledge, smoothing out operational wrinkles and enhancing overall efficiency.

The Takeaway: A Cycle of Continuous Improvement

Briefings and debriefings are not just meetings; they are strategic tools that can significantly impact the success of your projects and, by extension, your business. By investing time in a thorough briefing, you reduce confusion and align your team with a clear vision. An effective debriefing, on the other hand, is your opportunity to reflect, learn, and plan for improvement. Together, they create a cycle of continuous improvement, ensuring that your business doesn’t just grow but also evolves and adapts in an ever-changing landscape.

About the Author: Cam Fulrath

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Cam Fulrath is a Managing Partner at Cross/Section. Prior to founding Cross/Section, he served in the US Navy and is a TOPGUN graduate and Tactics Instructor. At Cross/Section he focuses on operational rigor and excellence, systems, processes, and leadership development.