Debriefing – an approach by evaluation and feedback

Project volumes, program complexity and sharp deadlines ask for lean team work. Nonetheless team work can be tough. Sometimes I wonder how teams manage at all. Creativity and humour help:

“There is no I in eagle” -Adri Kamp, miller at Molen De Arend, Terheijden, the Netherlands.

This article explores a framework on organizational interaction and team dynamics. It states why facilitation of a profound dialogue improve team results. The article concludes with conditions that support a deepened dialogue. Finally it introduces a prototype for team evaluation and a method for debriefing.


Organizational advisers usually de-pressurize a context and build a first level of trust through LSD: Listening, Summarizing and asking Deeper questions.

“Communication about blockades is the job of an organizational advisor, although most people would like to avoid this” – Hans Vermaak

Negotiators work alike, yet through a more direct method. For example, the approach ‘Let them sweat first’ pulls a negotiation through three phases:

  1. kick off with a stalemate situation,
  2. show strong attitude and
  3. create mutual understanding and agreement.

Each in their own way these styles deal with ‘paralysis before analysis’. Both harder and softer approaches apply to a better team understanding. Both are about opening up and narrowing down.


Dialogues are both in depth and superficial at once. They are layered. A dialogue can be substantive, process-oriented and also targeting behaviour. Especially while opening up a dialogue towards a better understanding of needs and blockades, a variety of topics on team dynamics arises. Here are three common – but inconclusive – categories useful for describing team dynamics:

  • Contextual dualities
  • Simultaneity
  • Biases

Contextual dualities
Let us dissect a basic alliance. Assume three representatives acting as agents on behalf of three separate organizations. Such an alliance can be about building the New Orleans water barriers, about a think tank on the morality of epigenetics or a about government & industry working together in crisis response teams.

Multi Actor Context
A Multi Actor Context

Each representative has its own organizational backbone. Together these organizational backbones exist in a context that may shift over time. When we are performing a complex task for the first time, perhaps even with unacquainted team members, time might not be on our sides. The frame of the original assignment may even shift. Think about political shifts, organizational changes and personal development.

There is much going on at different levels of such a multi actor context. The extent to which people are able to cope with simultaneity is questionable.


Looking from a helicopter perspective, meandering transitions are influencing team work. These transitions are both plastic and robust. Take for instance how a new law – the ultimate dream of each lawyer – also attracts new workarounds – such as the ultimate playground of a computer hacker or a tax accountant. And vice versa. Plasticity and robustness go hand to hand:

“Careful analysis of what happens during development suggests that it is no longer helpful to retain a hard and fast distinction between robustness and plasticity” – Bateson & Gluckman

Source: Bateson and Gluckman, 2011, Plasticity, Robustness, Development and Evolution

Let us zoom in onto the level of organizational constellations. Here we can distinguish a chaotic as well as an entangled perspective. Alliances are interwoven compositions. Compositions one can disentangle. Alliances are also merged composites. Composites with blended components. This holds for hierarchical and behavioural tructures:

“… complex systems arise from both entangled and blended connections of primary self-interests and thoughtful community concerns”  – Geert Teisman

Source: Geert Teisman, 2007, Publiek management op de grens van chaos en orde

Narrowing down to the team level, small subgroups are present. Both cooperation and competition push and pull individual interests, behaviour and decision making. For instance, when working together, people compete ‘automagically’ and often unaware for attention. People want to be heard. People want attention for a personal bandwagon. People want to feel included.

Stepping into the smallest level, we enter the level of individual decision making. Here we distinguish several perspectives of simultaneity: our stress and reward system, subconscious decision making versus rational explanation and dealing with both measurements and predictions, to name a few.

So within a multi actor context there are many dual or paired themes. We could say ‘where there is cooperation, there is competition’. I use this two-headed monster as a visual reminder:

Copyright Sesamestreet

Biases can be more or less explained as unfair prejudices. They are useful for individual decision making and dealing with dualities. Cognitive biases can also be unfair prejudices towards the group or oneself:

“Cognitive biases describe how people are expert in creating seemingly rational and subjective explanations of personal behaviour and perception – Kahneman & Frederick”

Source: Kahneman, Daniel; Shane Frederick (2002). “Representativeness Revisited: Attribute Substitution in Intuitive Judgment”. In Thomas Gilovich, Dale Griffin, Daniel Kahneman. Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–52″

Cognitive biases lure and have the power to paralyse team efforts and results. Group thinking, social pressure, fundamental attribution error and bounded rationality are just four of many biases.

There are different types too. Behavioural biases are for instance the hindsight biases ( I knew it all along ) and loss aversion ( Losses loom larger than gains ). Examples of social biases are the halo effect ( Whis is why we take a selfie with a celebrity ) and in-group bias ( George W. Bush: ‘You are either with us or against us’ ). There are also memory biases, example given, false memory and the spotlight bias.


The class of memory biases are interesting, because it touches how we tick. Marketeers, teachers and parents might agree that repetition influences memory. It creates a truth. A brain scientist might describe this as:

A single stimulus strengthens the synapse (short term memory) where repeated stimulation causes kinases to move into the nucleus, leading to gene expression and growth of new synapses (long term memory) – source not documented

Read more at & Molecular mechanisms of short and longterm facilitation

Or more popular: ‘Cells that fire together, wire together’. This means that a memory bias can distort perception. Through such distorted perception, a memory bias influences behaviour. Declaring a false statement – obtained under pressure – unfortunately is an everyday example.

Furthermore, influencing behaviour not only leans on repetition but also on emotion:

“Emotions and memories are tightly interwoven” – Barry J. Gibb

Source: 2012, The Rough Guide to the Brain

Because emotions and memories are interwoven, we can assume that emotions too have the ability to drive or lock our behaviour. Just like you feel like going for a quick run when the morning sun is shining.

Now we know many cognitive biases help us make individual decisions. We also have a strong indication that these biases can catalyse as well as undermine team results. So how can we make best use of them?


The range of everyday biases suggest that making assumptions helps. Biases seem to have evolved to support human decision making and dealing with simultaneity. The catch is that many assumptions might be firmly grounded in biases. These are biases that are more or less distorting our perception of reality.

A profound dialogue – five conditions
Now suppose team members would like to overcome such distortion by exploring mutual assumptions. What conditions would help teams becoming more effective?

  1. It would not hurt team members to embrace complexity. Only acceptance of biases within a multi actor context establishes a deepened dialogue.
  2. Enabling a dialogue about assumptions stimulates a mutual understanding of otherwise hidden and personal motivations, as Chris Argyris explained.
  3. Tacit and latent knowledge is best discovered though a generative approach, known from design methodologies:

    The way to access experience (modified from Sanders, 1999, by Visser, Stappers en VanderLugt, 2003)
    The way to access experience (modified from Sanders, 1999, by Visser, Stappers en VanderLugt, 2003)
  4. The generative approach must somehow establish a open and playful dialogue to overcome the pitfalls of overt language. These ideas by Steven Picker are introduced in another post about Provoking explicit language.
  5. Teams should adopt low threshold tools and methods that help them playfully unveil assumptions. Such tools and methods help teams establish and access a steady common ground. Autonomously and instantly. They help overcome individual universes that are otherwise driven by biased perspectives and motivations.

Act smart in an early stage
Effective teams ask for a constructive open dialogue. Such a dialogue needs actively unveiling of assumptions. Using the right method this can be done Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. You can now imagine how the inability to unveil assumptions will result in costly and time consuming corrections later on.

Facilitate your team dialogue
The fact that you are reading this blog post assumes that you are already acquainted with InstantDebriefing. InstantDebriefing is a prototype intervention. An app supports the method for opening up a dialogue.
Feel free to use the demo. Facilitate evaluation and feedback in your team meetings. I appreciate your ideas, requests and responses via hello [ at ]


If you wish to share a lightweight version of the ID concept, without referencing the underlying framework, feel free to link to my guest blog at explaining 6 reasons to use InstantDebriefing.


Draw and You will remember

This post explores the boundaries of better memory through drawing. It mixes science and popular culture. A prelude about Open Access and Machine Learning – accompanied by some mind refreshing memes – paves way for subjects as memory, transfer, dialogue and debriefing.
The numerous links and abundant memes are to inspire you and invite you to reply.

First things first: a modest hip hip hooray for social science!

Adapted from Paramount
Cake it so – a Star Trek TNG meme, after TNG’s captain Picards one-of-many oneliners.

:: Open Access – a prelude

Why ‘Make Cake it so’? It is just that with the current critiques of the methods applied in social sciences in mind – such as a likelyhood of irreplicable findings – the article that triggered this post is doing just fine. Hooray! The description of the applied methods seems sufficient for basic reproduction of the research findings.

Complementary cheers because the text arrived like an Open Access gift, just like already-paid-for-science should be. Therefore a call to all Deep Learning Connectionists and Generative Evolutionists: Please continue your work. You are lifting the imperative comprehension of today’s landscape – scattered scientific literature – to the next level of machine learning; a level that is applicable to domains of jurisprudence, game theory and health care, to name a few.

no comment
Everything is a remix

Why specifically address Connectionists (who study learning by networking) and Evolutionists (who study learning by algorithmic selection – not to be confused with creationists)?
Correct, that would be incomplete and perhaps even inconsiderate to Symbolists (who study learning by manipulation of symbols), Bayesians (who study learning by specific probabilities) and Analogizers (who study learning by a more or less a human interpretation of probabilities). This Dutch newspaper article by Bennie Mols recently summed up five learning approaches, whilst referring to The Master Algorithm, a book by Pedro Domingos (2015). This book is not intended for experts on Machine Learning but merely for laymen who are looking to be inspired, according to some reviews I glanced at Goodreads. But hey. The downer comments – mostly provided by experts – seem to read exactly like those on other popular but inspiring science books like Critical Mass and A new kind of Science. Recursive feedback – by explaining the range of scientific expert approaches – seems appropriate here.

An example of the recursive naming of GNU, an operating system and collection of software.
An example of the recursive naming of GNU, an operating system and collection of software. If you are a recursive die hard, you might try the book Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Still, why applaud Connectionists and Evolutionists? Open Access is nothing when we cannot compare accessible content. Both accidental Sampling Bias and deliberate Data Polishing are always luring. Over time these two learning approaches are able to deal with large amounts of information, better and better, and most likely by the lending hand of the other three approaches. If they do not succeed we keep accepting blind spots in growing data collections and singularly gravitate towards data we want to fit our findings and toward articles we prefer to believe.

Available in print via
Available in print via

:: drawing improves memory – the article

So this post is about an article. Let us explore the boundaries of The drawing effect: Evidence for reliable and robust memory benefits in free recall. See the source below * .

@Dennis Luijer from VisuallyYours: You deserve a round of Applauso for sharing the article via FB.

Honestly, I want to believe the article’s conclusion:

We propose that drawing improves memory by encouraging a seamless integration of semantic, visual, and motor aspects of a memory trace.

Why? Such a proposal can revamp business models. Just imagine how it could dethrone the 3M Post-it® cash cow and top rank the 3M™ DI-NOC™ Whiteboard Film at the 3M portfolio:

Source: 3M architonic

However the slogan ‘The “write” way to create whiteboard’ would need some 2016 copy writing, according to the Wammes’ proposal.

Courtesy of Paramount
A still of TNG episode Deja Q showing a happily overwhelmed Omnipotent Being Q, ever painstakingly annoying his human puppy Jean Luc Picard and crew with bad jokes – Courtesy of Paramount

:: memory

So writing does support your memory tracing less than drawing does.
But wait. Is it that simple? Suppose we extend the ‘free recall part’. Suppose you want to remember a story instead of a (grocery) list. Would you then draw a map or create a ‘mind palace’ to support your brain tracing the content of a Bible, an episode of the Horace and Pete series or let us just say an article on Wikipedia?

Episode of the 2010 Sherlock episode 'The blind banker' ( animated gif originally by ) suggesting a Method of Loci.
Episode of the 2010 Sherlock episode ‘The blind banker’  suggesting a Method of Loci ( animated gif originally by reelareela ).

I wonder how many pages or many days of performance it would take to trace and remember other types of content, like stories. In fact, everyone should make a drawn copy to trace his/her memories to make it work. Efforts would soon outgrow the creation of a graphic novel or a theatre play. Come on, bring your sketchbook into the theatre:

The Story of Louis Riel: Excerpts from a Comic-Strip Biography The excerpts on this and following pages come from Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (Drawn & Quarterly Publications, Montreal, 2003). The graphic biography is 270 pages long, and includes notes and an index.
Excerpt of a graphic biography by Chester Brown: The Story of Louis Riel (Drawn & Quarterly Publications, Montreal, 2003)

:: tangibility

As a father as a man I tend forget. I therefore secure intentions by placing objects in plain sight, simply because I learned the default behaviour is strong in human kind. I create a grocery list to shop. I place the list tactical to remind me to shop. I use a cabinet to place and prioritize urgent and important requests through physical mail. And create competition for my grocery list.

This makes me wonder about the tangible aspect of drawing. Let us learn by analogy and suggest that not only drawing but also building with LEGO, playing with Play-Doh clay and even dancing ‘improves memory by encouraging a seamless integration of semantic, visual, and motor aspects of a memory trace’.
To be more precise, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® describes part of the LSP method as:

Thinking with your hands.

Read more about the cool method via this Open-Source- but-not-anonymously-accessible-Open-Access PDF.

:: transfer

Creating with LEGO does clear your head. And LSP adds up to that. LSP strongly builds on learning by creating metaphors and by storytelling about ones creation:

This concept of knowledge transfer is better explained by the work of Sanders (1999) and build upon by Sleeswijk-Visser et al:

The way to access experience (modified from Sanders, 1999, by Visser, Stappers en VanderLugt, 2003)
The way to access experience (modified from Sanders, 1999, by Visser, Stappers en VanderLugt, 2003)

Bluntly summarizing the figure above: Explaining their creations help people share latent knowledge. Feel free to check this source about context mapping to learn more.

:: dialogue

Back to reality now.

Courtesy of Paramount
A still of TNG episode Phantasms, showing the Android officer Data exploring his dream program – Courtesy of Paramount

Let us assume that drawing 0bjects from a list indeed helps us remember objects from a list.

Samples, Wammes et al.
Samples as described by Wammes et al.

Does this also work out for remembering more abstract concepts? ‘Money’ is easier to draw than ‘Banking System’ or ‘Value’. It is another league of Pictionary. Perhaps most of us simply missed essential training in creating drawings of more abstract concepts:

Source: rmwraps

And how about the understanding such abstract objects, now visible and tangible, modelled and expressed by our minds and bodies, as opposed to being written?

Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.

Source here.

:: debriefing

Debriefing techniques already support (collective) memory and transfer through dialogue. For example, one technique uses two circular arrays of chairs where participants are only allowed to contribute to a dialogue while seated within the middle circle. This technique was kindly introduced to me by Elizabeth Tipton at a 2014 ISAGA workshop on Debriefing:

Debriefing a learning session
Example formation while debriefing a  business session. It is the dialogue that matters, instead of the Post it’s collected and clustered on a wall.

I am interested in Visualizing the Understanding of Relationships: to what extent does a visual intervention make collaboration more effective? How would that intervention work and look like? What skeleton methodology is necessary to safely cut out an external facilitator?

To find out I developed a prototype (not a solution) available at

Note: As I write this post we are automating the renewal of the Certificate Authority via the free, automated and open LetsEncrypt service – in order to automagically keep your data safe and freeing up my time for maintenance – so if the site is not working please let me know.

Instant Debriefing uses a digital drag-drop ‘drawing’ style. The approach lets team members place avatars of team members onto a model and unveils blind spots and assumptions:

Screenshot Instant Debriefing introduction page.

The app and method are designed to stimulate a dialogue about latent – behavioural – knowledge.

Instant Debriefing builds on creation and digitally filters mutual assumptions, stimulates storytelling as part of a debriefing method. Wammes’ proposal builds on drawing and memory. There is a hunch about tangibility, mixed sensory input and transfer of knowledge. But how can I build upon the work of Wammes et al?
Bummer. I do not know. Literature does not yet seem to provide me with an acceptable answer nor direction. Perhaps I just cannot give meaning to the knowledge already out there without proper training in available Deep Learning tools to prevent my sampling bias.

:: prototyping

Heads up. I do follow a few guiding principles. Here are three. Keep on prototyping while learning. Test with dummies. Debrief once in a while.

Efficiency Program #1 by YURR
Efficiency Program #1 by YURR

Join me and feel free to use InstantDebriefing to boldly go where no tech-enabled (hu)man has gone before.

Adapted form TNG, episode unknown. Source:

Join me in my quest by commenting or writing back. Write a letter if you prefer:

The Sherlock and Bond actor dramatizes radical artist Sol LeWitt’s advice to sculptor Eva Hesse.
The Sherlock and Bond actor dramatizes radical artist Sol LeWitt’s advice to sculptor Eva Hesse. ‘View’ this letter at Nowness.

Join me by drawing a grocery list once in a while, instead of writing it. So we can leave the list at home simply because now we remember the items drawn on our lists. Whether it seems silly or not, draw more:


Original article: THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2016 Vol. 69, No. 9, 1752 – 1776,  by Jeffrey D. Wammes, Melissa E. Meade, and Myra A. Fernandes
Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada


Help me test a debriefing app

There is no question that debriefing is one of the most important learning phases. It is also clear that it is mostly an unwanted monster.

A couple of years ago in an attempt to better facilitate collaboration between organizational alliances, I started to explore visual dialogue support systems.

Now, I have developed one myself to learn about improving a team dialogue. I am especially interested in the flipside of expressing behavioral blindspots, mismatched assumptions and (un)veiling intentions. This blog provides some contextual information.


So far early versions of this approach lead to debriefing of several small teams.
And I am now ready to open the demo-app for a few more beta testers who are interested in helping me figure out ways to improve team results through instant debriefing.

I wish to offer a more complete evaluation version of the app – beyond the basic demo version. In return, your feedback will help me setting up cases and collecting data.
Here is a link to my current approach and the demo app:

Wereldopener InstantDebriefing banner wide wp 3

If you are struggling with debriefing sessions, please contact me at
hello [ at ] instantdebriefing [ dot ] com



Storytelling, a beginning …

After watching the Saar Oz video ‘nobody tells this to beginners’ …

… I followed this hint – her inspiration for the video:

As mentioned in the video, this is a gesture for a quote from Ira Glass. Check out his very inspirational speech:

Yes, Saar speaks of THE Ira Glass, host and producer of the weekly public radio show This American Life! Enjoy part 3 of 4:


Drawing Nodes

Not really scientifically stated, however worth sharing:

  • 1) visualize frames-of-reference to create team-alignment
  • 2) use sticky notes, as opposed to single sheet drawings
  • 3) talk less while creating a shared understanding (?as opposed to #4)
  • 4) it is about the conversations, not about the models (?as opposed to #3)

    TIP: when solving wicked problems, make sure you fit the right solutions to the right problems. Read more about Garbage Can Theory as explained by (Stanford, Daniel McFarland, Self Paced MOOC)

If you like the site ‘ ‘ you might also like the booklet ‘ sketching at work


Theories of action, double loop learning and organizational learning

Chris Argyris about Nixon (4min10sec):

Also check this nice article on the work of Argyris & Donald A. Schon: Organizational Learning II, describing the Model I (defensive reasoning) and Model II (double loop learning) on organizational learning. How to open up a dialogue about one’s theory-in-use and one’s expoused theory :

Article: Smith, M. K. (2001, 2013). ‘Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [ Retrieved: 2014, october 8th]

Picture: Double loop learning by Boris Drenec. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence.


Appreciative inquiry in a nutshell

A bit dry, but a nice introduction to the method of Appreciative Inquiry.

See also this link to other examples and tips and this link about asking powerful questions.


Research apps

NOTE: Timeful is acquired by Google per 2015:

NOTE: Google version is now live in Play store per december 2015:

On the verge of delivering an App-as-a-Research-Tool (ART) myself, behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely , teacher of the MOOC on Irrational Behavior, notified me of Timeful App.

ARVE Error: need id and provider

Although it has been a few minutes since our class has been in session, I am hopeful that you remember our discussions on self-control – and particularly with regard to time management (does “hyperbolic discounting” ring some bells?).

In line with the research that we’ve covered, a team of brilliant minds (and also myself) have designed an app to help us when we need it most. Timeful is a time assistant that (among other things) helps you put your To-Dos on your calendar so that you actually get them done. Learn more here.

You can download Timeful for iOS (for FREE!) right here (with a web component in beta and Android in the works)

Timeful learns about you over time, so the more you use it, the more useful it will be. Try it out, and let me know what you think!

Yet another researcher providing apps to (1) build knowledge and (2) guide behavior. Nice.




Provoking explicit language

Interesting paradox stated in the clip below (@round 7 min 30 ) by Steven Pinker (Harvard):

What is the psychological state of an overture we feel to be ‘out there’ or ‘on the record’ that makes it feel so much more akward than a veiled overture that is conveyed indirectly?

The key to this paradox is stated as mutual knowledge (as opposed to individual knowledge), where explicit language is an excellent way of creating mutual knowledge. Science builds on such explicit language. But why is it then that humans are so skilled in NOT being explicit in language (veiling), as stated earlier in Steven Pinker’s presentation?

Language has to do two things:
1) convey some content (like a bribe, command, proposition)
2) negotiate a relationship type by a) a literal form (to signal the safest relationship to the listener) and b) counting on the listener to read between the lines to entertain a proposition that might be incompatible with that relationship

This helps the imperative get through without the presumption of dominance.

Relationship types are defined after Alan Fiske. These types are in the clip defined as the set of Dominance, Communality and Reciprocity. However, literature (explained here and originating from Fiske) defines four types:

  • Communal Sharing
  • Authority Ranking
  • Equality Matching
  • Market Pricing

Pinkers explanation is that overt language creates a situation where you cannot take something back and therefore poses ‘something out there’, stressing the former safety of the relation. He explains the high pay off of a bribe refering to ‘the identification problem’ (Thomas Schelling, more here explaining sorting and peer effects)  in his book presentation of 2007  (slides of presentation here) @ 44 min 32:

veiled bribe go free traffic ticket
bribe go free arrest for bribary
no bribe traffic ticket traffic ticket

Similar, a dialogue by veiling respresentatives during alliance development, whether this is about the EU-bankin problem in 2012 or about alliances between universities, does create a higher change of successful outcomes. At the same time this lack of explicit language can also explain apparent trade offs. Such trade offs are noticable through lack of transparancy, miscommunication, misunderstanding, questionable loyalty and intentions.
Such trade off in developement is explained by Bateson and Gluckman (Plasticity, Robustness, Development and Evolution, 2011), stating that Plasticity and Robustess are principles of development that need each other. These principles are not opposites at all.

My hypothesis is that visualization helps ‘putting it out there’, while opening a meaningful dialogue. This means visualization should have an open, indefinite, playful character: similar to playing a mutual game looking for a answer of mutual interest, for example while allowing using closed / unidentified pawns (indivdual knowledge) of the other party on a shared canvas.