Further Reading
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Further reading on Organizational Learning & Action Review Cycles

Further reading on Organizational Learning & Action Review Cycles

OrgLearnWork AAR Study Systems Thinker Handbook Reflections

BW HBR INC magazine GetBetterFaster

Note: We have permission from many publishers to allow single downloads for educational use of many of our articles. If you intend to distribute multiple copies within your organization, contact the publisher to purchase appropriate reprints.

“Get Better Faster: Ultimate Guide to Practicing Retrospectives” OpenView Partners eBook, May 2011 [download] [read at OpenView site]

Compares ARC and Scrum methologies as two approaches that build learning into normal workflows. Frequent yet rapid reflection – ensure continuous improvement in your organization, gain insight into performance, identify process impediments, solve lingering problems, and develop a team culture. Sections by Charles Parry and Jeff Sutherland (inventor of Scrum).

“Beyond the AAR: The Action Review Cycle (ARC)” Proceedings of 11th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit, April 2011 [download] 

Adoption of the Action Review Cycle (ARC) is proposed as a strategic shift that builds on current practices in the wildland fire service, and offers significant positive gains for firefighter safety and operational alignment. A discussion of how to successfully embed team learning into an organization's existing culture, with specifics on how ARC integrates critical leadership communications, planning, preparation, learning and performance over time.

“The Army's After Action Review (AAR) is arguably one of the most successful organizational learning methods yet devised. Yet, most every corporate effort to graft this truly innovative practices into their culture has failed – because, again and again, people reduce the living practice of AAR's to a sterile technique. As Marilyn Darling and Charles Parry show, the crucial difference lies in the synergy between culture and method”   — Peter Senge

“Leadership: Armed With Data” INC. Magazine, March 2009 [read at INC site]

After reading about AAR cycles (ARC) in HBR, leaders at MFA decided to “bake them in” to every customer engagement. Article describes the applications of ARC in this highly successful 100+ employee accounting and consulting firm, and the value they created.

“Action Review Cycle and the After Action Review Meeting”—in The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today's Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems - January 2007 [Publisher (]  [buy chapter reprint]

This updated edition of the classic bestseller features profiles of sixty-one change methods, each by their originators or foremost practitioners. Chapters outline distinctive aspects of a method, answer frequently asked questions, and provide case studies and references.

“Growing Knowledge Together: Using Emergent Learning and EL Maps for Better Results” Reflections-The SoL Journal on Knowledge, Learning, and Change; Volume 8, 2007 [download]  [Publisher (]

How do you bring great minds together around complex challenges? SoL researcher-consultants Charles Parry and Marilyn Darling recognized that groups need a method in order to effectively structure learning that occurs over multiple events. EL Maps™ offer a simple and powerful approach to recognize patterns and come up with systemic solutions. As bringing bright people together can be like “herding cats,” EL Maps™ guide groups through rounds of action and thinking producing actionable and robust theory grounded in real contexts.

“Learning on the Front Lines” Business Week July 2006 [download pdf]  [Publisher (]

Signet researcher-consultants brought the CEO and CFO of a utility company to the US Army's National Training Center, and helped these executives implement after-action review processes throughout their company. One example of a positive impact upon their application of insights gained there – restoration time for power failures improved by 40%.

"While many have written about the AAR, no other authors have uncovered the dynamics of the process as have Marilyn Darling and Charles Parry. Those of us who see the value of the AAR will well appreciate their contribution to the field of learning.” Director, Defense Education, Reserve Officers Association

“Learning in the Thick of It” Harvard Business Review - High-Performance Organization Issue - July 2005 [Summary page]   [reprints from publisher (]   [request a complimentary copy from authors]

Signet researchers describe the organizational learning practices of a nimble, winning organization which arguably is the “gold standard” for organizations that use rapid learning as a strategic advantage. Article reviews the efforts of a range of companies as they attempted to build Lessons Learned using AARs. Key insight: Companies that succeed do NOT simply gather lessons. Rather, they create a cycle that ties leading, learning and execution together–and that strengthens their ability to sustain success in a fast-changing competitive environment.

“Cultivating a Learning Economy: After Action Reviews Generate Ongoing Value for DTE Energy,” Reflections-The SoL Journal on Knowledge, Learning, and Change; Volume 5, 2003 [download]   [Publisher (]

Efforts to embed “learning while doing” as a daily business practice paid off for DTE Energy during and after the blackout of 2003. The authors describe how early efforts to embed the After Action Review cycle as a working habit eventually led to broad adoption and measurable results in this leading energy company. Signet played a variety of supporting roles in DTE's success.

"Emergent Learning in Action: The After Action Review" The Systems Thinker, October 2001 [download]   [Publisher (]

Unfortunately, the After-Action Review has been widely misunderstood and underestimated in its power to transform results in organizations. However, Charles Parry and Marilyn Darling show that the After Action Review cycle is an excellent example of Emergent Learning, describe its effective use by three corporations, and offer do's and don’ts for adopting the AAR cycle as a process to improve performance.

“We’ve used Emergent Learning since early in 2000 to help our multi-company project teams break through barriers starting right at the outset of a project. The teams know that they will come back together to check their progress as they go. I see Signetís approach – linking a forward focus with reflecting back – as crucial to our ability to build effective partnerships at the same time that we improve our performance on projects.”   — Vice President, construction company

"From Post-Mortem to Living Practice: An in-depth study of the evolution of the After Action Review" [Signet (out of print)]  [read executive summary]

A major update to the literature on AARs, this research report summarizes much of Darling and Parry's early fieldwork. The 40 page study, published in 2000, takes an in-depth look at how the practice of AARs evolved from its origins over the course of 20 years, and at the successes and failures of early adopters applying it within civilian sectors.

"Emergent Learning: Taking Learning from Experience to New Level" The Systems Thinker, May 1999 [download]   [Publisher (]

“Learning” holds many social connotations that severely limit its application outside of traditional education and training. Darling and Parry provide an overview of the core principles of Emergent Learning, contrast it with problem-solving and classroom training, and then show how to shift the mindset about when and how teams can engage in learning.

"Putting Best Practices Into Practice" in Organizational Learning At Work, 1998 [download]  [Publisher (]

There is a strong case for propagating best practices across sub-units of organizations. Yet efforts to do this commonly meet with very limited success. This chapter describes some of the stumbling blocks and offers principles for successfully propagating practices across organizational units.


"Succeed in Any Conditions Using After Action Reviews" [Public Sector Consortium, Program #11]

For teams who want to raise the bar on their performance, regardless of what the world throws at them, this two-day program is based on in-depth research of AAR best practices. This program allows teams to learn the fundamentals of the AAR and apply it to their own organizational and operational challenges. It is appropriate for organizations that already use AARs and want to improve their practice as well.

“Darling's and Parry's study can help corporate leaders at all levels grasp the essence of the AAR, so they can help it incubate in their own culture.”   — Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline

Fact Sheets & Slides:

"Raise the Bar: After Action Reviews and the Action Review Cycle" [download 2 page pdf]

How to raise the bar on performance and learning using Before and After Action Reviews - BAR-AAR - including preparation, non-negotiables, do's and don'ts, and good places to start.

"Emergent Learning and EL Maps" [download 2 page pdf]

The principles and practice of Emergent Learning, how EL Maps™ launch and support an organizational learning practice.

"Overview of Emergent Learning" [view slide set]

The core principles of Emergent Learning and some of the thinking behind EL Maps™.

Other pages and articles of Interest:

"The After Action Review (AAR) and Action Review Cycle (ARC)" [go to this page]

Using the AAR to create a culture of accountability and continually raise the bar on performance by learning through execution.

"Frontline Stories - Applications of Organizational Learning" [go to this page]

Eight examples of challenges and organizational learning practices in a range of organizations.

"But We Are Not the Army!" [go to page]

Guidance on the business application of the practices of the world's premier learning organization, the US Army's OPFOR, described in "Learning In The Thick Of It" (HBR August 2005 - see above)

"Bikers Learn from the Army"[download]

Knowledge Management webarticle describes how After Action Review practices were integrated into Harley-Davidson’s manufacturing processes at their Kansas City plant.

"War Management" by Steve Barth in Knowledge Management Magazine, 2001[download]

How Knowledge management plays a central role in the U.S. armed forces transformation today. The introduction of action learning by Army Chief of Staff in World War II, in order to introduce modern ideas of business management into the military.


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