Although my business partner, our employees, and I take great pride in our professionalism and work standards, something usually goes wrong during our research projects. We employed a former member of the military who likened our jury research projects to a combat mission and who suggested, soon after he was hired, that we adopt a military style debriefing session following every research day/combat mission.
We have continued this practice through the years and have found it to be an effective way to de-bug what went wrong, why, and most important, how to prevent it from happening again. My business partner loves forms and he devised a form on which everyone notes
problems that occurred and suggests solutions to each problem. Following every research project, we meet as a group to debrief so that future clients will benefit from what we learned and the improvements we made. We also encourage a blame free forum, to allow each person to bring up things he/she did that caused a problem or resulted in a mistake; in this way, other staff members are not pointing the blame at their co-workers. I am the most picky person on the research team and I always share my debriefing notes last, after everyone else says they
have reached the end of their list of what went wrong. I usually bring up several more things that could have been done better, much to everyone else’s chagrin! On the rare occasions when we have a research day that is 100% perfect, we commend each member of the research team, including noting this information in personnel files for future reference when it is time to give bonuses. Overall, our
debriefing sessions have been the source of considerable quality improvements and a strong force in our commitment to excellence.
While our mock jury research may not seem prone to problems, when considering the technologies involved, the people involved, many of whom we have never met (including the mock jurors, and clients, and clients’ clients), things happen. We travel to mock trials with hundreds of pounds of equipment, video cameras, cables, cords, surveys, and computers. In fact, the range of things that are
somewhat ancillary to our actual work with data collection on reactions to a lawsuit is tremendous. The “ancillary”
items are more frequently the source of the problem as compared to the real core of what we do. Simply put, there is
room for error. The benefit of our debriefing approach is that we learn from mistakes and we document troubleshooting ideas or correct procedures to prevent them from recurring. We once had an employee who said “I don’t make the same mistake twice.” The problem was, she made many mistakes that could have been avoided if she used some forethought. But, not everyone has the ability to think
ahead and as employees come and go, we cannot afford to let each of them learn not to make that same mistake on their own.
So, we had to learn to find ways to help new employees learn from their predecessors’ mistakes and avoid them.
The debriefing format has done this more than anything else we have tried. We do not spend much time on what
went right, though those details are noted, but instead, we focus on identifying problems and find solutions for them. Some of the solutions are procedural, some are technical, some involve spending (more) money on equipment, new checklists
or policies, and discussions of facility issues that may be beyond our control. A word of caution though, some
of our team members have found it difficult to admit they made an error or could have done better. This is
particularly sensitive when the problem is created by a more senior team member and less senior team member is the one to identify the problem. Thus, from a management standpoint, care must be taken to remove the personality issues in an effort to get the job done
right for the client.