people learning in a library

How to maximize the learning benefits of your simulation

August 19, 2021

Critical Takeaways:

  • Conducting training or an exercise without learning from the experience is a waste of resources, time, and attention. You need a process to capture these learnings and to put these into an action plan.
  • Start with an immediate ‘hot’ debrief with participants. We find asking them to answer ‘I like, I wish, I wonder’ gets quick, honest feedback.
  • Then, write up your formal after-action review and share that with your leadership and the participants to show where gaps have been closed and suggest additional areas for improvement.

You just wrapped up your crisis simulation, and it was awesome. Congratulations.

Your team is feeling a mix of exhaustion and excitement. Everyone is aware of the gaps within the organization, and there are many great ideas of how to solve them. 

Your team is in a learning and growth mindset.

Now, as the person in charge, it’s up to you to capture these great learnings and determine how to fill any gaps. 

After all, the main reason you did the simulation was to see how and where you could improve your company. If you don’t capture those lessons – and put them into action – the whole process has been for nothing. But learning from experience isn’t as automatic as you would think.

Capturing Feedback

The first thing you should do after your simulation is to get immediate feedback. We do this right after the end of the simulation while things are still fresh in everyone’s minds.

We like to use a three-question technique called ‘I like, I wish, I wonder.’

  • I like – Ask people to share something they particularly liked about the experience, about what worked, and the things about the process, planning, and experience that were valuable. 
  • I wish – Next, ask them what they wished had gone better, had been available, or maybe there’s something that they wish hadn’t happened. Asking ‘I wish’ also sets the stage for comments about what’s missing or things the team didn’t get a chance to experience. This is an easy way to get constructive and non-offensive feedback. 
  • I wonder – Finally, ‘I wonder’ is a blue sky question that lets people say, “I wonder if we would have been better if we had a crisis plan,” “I wonder if we would have been better if we had some media training.” It’s an invitation to think broadly about the whole experience, and people often come up with creative, insightful answers to the question.

Take notes of the answers you are getting throughout this process, as these will be valuable additions to your final report. Moreover, the solution to a problem might come from one of these answers, and you will find it much easier to get people to buy into a solution if they were the ones who suggested it.

We find ‘I like, I wish, I wonder’ to be an excellent format for the debrief you conduct as soon as the exercise is over. The answers you get will help you improve your organization and make future simulations better.

For Every Problem, There’s a Solution

However, even when you’ve collected this feedback, your work isn’t done.

You now have to figure out how to apply those critiques and notes to refine your organization. There could be several important things to follow up on, such as media training, plans that need to be in place, or improving coordination between subject matter experts and your general counsel. 

There’s a lot of rich detail to gather and put to work, and you need a process for that.

Here at Kith, we’ve recreated a three-step military process called an After Action Report or After Action Review. These are routine parts of military culture, and an AAR is completed after every big exercise or operation to capture lessons learned. 

We use a similar, simplified, three-step approach.

  • Step 1 – Identify the issues identified and areas for improvement.
  • Step 2 – Propose solutions to help achieve those improvements, with up to three action steps each.
  • Step 3 – Identify the lessons learned and compare these to the objectives you initially set for the exercise. For example, if the intent was to improve coordination between communications and other teams, a successful exercise will have achieved this. If not, you should have a sense of why this wasn’t possible and can suggest a solution to that problem.

This AAR approach allows you to set out some quick wins of things that still need improvement and compare the objectives you set initially and the outcome of the exercise. Ideally, you will be able to see that you met all of the objectives you set while scoping the training which, in turn, means that the gaps you had identified have been closed. 

If not, you will have explained the remaining areas for improvement to close these gaps and highlighted any additional shortfalls that the exercise identified.

The after-action report summarizes what was achieved and the gaps that have been closed as well as outlining a roadmap for future improvements to help you design future training and exercises.

Sharing the results

Now, it’s time to share the report with your senior leadership and the participants.

Keep in mind that you may have had to work hard to get your leadership to buy into the exercise in the first place. So this is your opportunity to show that their trust and investment have paid off. 

The report allows you to remind them of where the gaps were, the work you did during the exercise, and its benefits. Overall, you should be able to show them that the organization is now more ready for a crisis.

You’re able to say, “Here’s what we did. Here’s what I observed. Here are my recommendations and a plan to steer us in the right direction.” 

Similarly, the participants will see where they have improved and how the gaps in their knowledge, skills, or relationships have been overcome.

Moreover, where there is still work to do, you’ve laid out clear objectives along with concrete action steps to help close those remaining gaps.

The report is the final step (but also the first)

Ensure that you set aside the time and effort for these actions after your next simulation. Otherwise, you will find that a great deal of the training benefit is lost and that problems identified are forgotten until the next training session or, worst of all, a crisis.

And never lose sight of the reason you invested the time and money into your training: you did it all to make yourself and the organization better. You can’t do that without capturing the lessons learned, building solutions, and sharing those with your organization. These are summarized in your after-action report which wraps up this piece of training but is also where you’ll start when you come to plan your next training session or exercise. Remember, crises and crisis preparedness are edgeless.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Filed under: Blog


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.