22 Ways to Enhance a Debrief

Imagine with me, that you have an immense fear of heights and your Outward Bound South Africa (OBSA) Instructor is slowing and clearly giving you instructions on how to climb a very long and very narrow pole. And then once having ascended to the top, you are told to stand up straight, with the support of the belay ropes anchoring you from below, and then once again told to jump and catch the swinging bar in the distance in front of you all while in the air.

You freeze from fear. Your inner self telling you that you are not capable of making the jump and that the rope supporting you will fail. But there’s another voice too. Telling you that you CAN do it and that you are capable of the task if you just TRUST yourself and your team below. With shaking knees and a racing heart, you close your eyes and leap. Taking the leap of faith.

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Once back on the ground, you get together with your OBSA Instructor and your Team and open up and chat about that activity and what it meant to you. This is the debrief.

One of the main reasons that an Outward Bound program is so different from that of other Adventure Companies, is our fundamental concept of Group Debriefings. This is an important educational tool to better gain an understanding from the Participants on their experience with the OBSA activities.

What is a Debrief?

Google describes a debriefing as a process of receiving information or reporting of measures of performance, and/or opportunities to further investigate the results of a study, investigation, or assessment of performance after participation in an immersive activity is complete.


Here are some ways to enhance a debrief with your Group:

  1. Get the group in a circle sitting knee to knee to standing shoulder to shoulder.
  2. Don’t leave any unfinished business, terminate all issues appropriately for every learner.
  3. Ensure that you maintain eye contact with whomever is speaking.
  4. Keep aware of others in the circle and non-verbally acknowledge when it’s their turn to speak or becoming distracted.
  5. Maintain a clear structure or ‘rules’ to your debrief. A good tool is the Full Value Concept (speaker in charge, respecting others and yourself, ect).
  6. Don’t be surprised by Participants resistance to a debrief, it’s often not how Participants are used to learning and takes some getting used to.
  7. Treat what Participants have to say with respect.
  8. Encourage those who are not Participants to speak by asking them direct, fair and inclusive questions.
  9. Learn from each facilitation session by being evaluated by peers, learners and yourself.
  10. Sit across the circle from your co-facilitator and establish non-verbal cues to communicate with them while you’re co-facilitating (such as leaning forward if I would like to follow a response with a questions).
  11. Take discrete notes of the activity and in the debrief refer to them when asking direct questions.
  12. One structed format that works is Gestalt, which has a questioning format of “What, So What, and Now What”.
  13. Sometimes it’s best to “let the mountain speak for itself”.
  14. Be creative and humorous (at appropriate times).
  15. Keep notes on each Participant so you can have them reflect on things that they have already learnt or goals that they have already set.
  16. Take your time reflecting on the learning, make sure that you have a solid awareness amongst the group about what just happened so that they can effectively and efficiently transfer the learning.
  17. Ask the tough questions to really challenge your Participants.
  18. Probe, Probe, Probe for the deeper meaning within the answer.
  19. Read more literature on facilitating a debrief, understand and apply the theory.
  20. Challenge what your Participants have said in a developmentally appropriate manner that challenges them to develop their thoughts into meaningful understanding.
  21. Pick a key word that a Participant has used and when they have finished their response simply say the word in an inquisitive manner (Respect or Pressure?).
  22. Utilize solutions oriented debriefing techniques by asking Participants questions about the experiences successes, how Participants achieve them and how the success can be replicated both directly and indirectly.

Give some of these a try and please let us know how it works out for you.

Written by:

Ashleigh Davies