When I first started my treasure hunt company, Dr. Clue, in 1995, I had two directions I could take it.  I could either walk down the path of creating the most entertaining recreation activity in the business, OR I could concentrate on harvesting deep learning from the exercise. By and large, I chose the latter path.  A teacher at heart, I’ve always been fascinated by how people can work and be productive together; Dr. Clue seemed like the perfect vehicle for delivering this insight – while simultaneously presenting a wildly entertaining experience for the participants.


But as a mentor once said to me years and years ago, “your exercise is only as good as the debrief”.   If you don’t help people process the learning, the activity soon fades from memory and nothing changes.   And that’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?  Training exercises are meant to teach something; they’re meant to lead to change.

We are all resistant to change: faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
–John Kenneth Galbraith

Change is difficult.  Change is stressful.  And change becomes necessary when you’re so unsatisfied with the status quo that it’s more painful to stay where you are then to risk moving out of your comfort zone (with all the pain and discomfort involved).

So we trainers need to debrief our activities in order to help facilitate change.   But how to do it?  Debriefing is a bit of a science; you have to do it in the right order.  Too many trainers, for example, jump right into the analysis stage of the debrief without prepping their audience for that level of deep investigation, plowing along in with such questions as:

  • What does this all mean?
  • How does this relate to work?
  • What are the parallels?

Great questions, right?   Yeeessss, but they’ve come too soon!   Skipping directly to the analysis stage of a debrief is like going for a run without stretching. You’re just asking for a poor performance (if not an injury!).

A skillful debrief, when done in the right order:

  • Creates motion
  • Creates options
  • Digs deeper
  • Avoids “why”
  • Avoids “yes” or “no” answers
  • Is empowering
  • Asks the unaskable questions

Although there are many ways to conduct a debrief, my favorite method is the ORID process, developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) in Canada.   It involves a facilitator asking people four levels of question — in order — with each level building on previous levels. ORID is based on the theory that people need both to be clear about the actual data and to deal with their emotional responses to the topic before arriving at better analysis and decision-making.

In the ORID model:

O’ stands for objective – the facts that the group knows

R’ stands for reflective – how people felt about the topic being evaluated (what they liked and disliked.)

I’ stands for interpretive – what it all meant

D’ stands for decisional – what is our decision or response

Another way to remember it is:

1. Objective (what)
2. Reflective (gut)
3. Interpretive (so what)
4. Decisional (now what)

Using the ORID method, people first consider all that is known (O) and their feelings (R), thereby ensuring the robustness of the issues (I) and decisions (D).

Pretty cool, huh?

Let’s explore how this works, letter by letter.

1) During the object stage, you focus attention on objective data and facts about the topic, ie. what did participants hear, see, touch, smell, taste.

Some Objective questions might be:

  • Let’s walk through what just happened.  What was the first thing I asked you to do?  Then what?
  • What are some things we did in this activity?
  • What did you see happening?
  • What happened next?  What happened just before?
  • What topics were covered?
  • What were the turning points or critical moments?
  • When was the first point you noticed things starting to go wrong?

2) During the reflective stage, you ask questions that bring out people’s immediate reactions, feelings and internal association with the facts.

Some Reflective questions might be:

  • How did you feel during the exercise?
  • What did you like most about the exercise?
  • What did you like least about the exercise?
  • At what points did you feel the most involved?
  • How did you feel at the beginning, middle and end of the workshop?
  • Name three feelings you experienced.
  • What is your reaction now?
  • What part of the simulation made you the most upset?
  • What part of the situation made you the most upset?
  • What were your personal highs and lows?

3) During the interpretive stage, you ask questions that highlight layers of meaning and purpose. What significance do people attach to a subject?  What alternatives do they identify?

Some Interpretative questions might be:

  • How might this exercise relate to the real world?
  • What would be the most difficult to apply in the real world?
  • How well did you achieve your objectives?
  • In what ways was the experience like/unlike work?
  • What are your options?
  • What are the implications of these models?
  • What was the most/least valuable?
  • What would be most difficult for you to implement?
  • What would have the greatest impact on your success?

4) During the decisional stage, you ask questions that allow people to respond to their situation. You bring the group to resolution, where they clarify action and determine next steps.

Some Decisional questions might be:

  • How will we apply what we learned from this exercise in the real world?
  • What do you want to explore further?
  • What do you want to take forward from this experience?
  • What should we do differently from now on?
  • What will be our next steps?
  • What will you stop/start/continue?

Pretty simple, right?    Actually it, is – but ORID takes practice. A quality ORID debrief is one where the transitions between the four stages are seamless and the participants are not aware of the rigor behind the facilitation. Above, all, you have to make sure you don’t rush through the ‘O’ and the ‘R’. The point of this debrief is to thoroughly explore what we know about something and what we feel and think about it before identifying issues and making decisions. This process ensures we get more reliable results from the option(s) we decide upon.

Change is difficult.  But a killer training exercise and a skillful ORID debrief can certainly plant the seeds of progress.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
-John F. Kennedy

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