STEALTH Debrief: How To Share Valuable Lessons Like the Military



“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi

In the military, rapid learning is a matter of life-and-death.

Debriefs are an important way to create and capture lessons learned.

The key is to do effective debriefs.

In the book, Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America’s Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World,James D. Murphy shares the STEALTH Debrief, a 7 step process for continuous learning and improvement.

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Find root causes.  I’m very much a fan of sharing lessons learned, finding root causes, and focusing on my mistakes first (since I own them, I can fix myself first), so this approach resonates with me.
  • Start with yourself.  I like the crispness of the inward outward criticism. Starting with yourself keeps accountability and encourages reflection.
  • Use the third person.  I like the nameless perspective by using third person. I find this helps stay focused on improving the role, technique or process versus pointing fingers at individuals. It’s also easier to carry the lessons forward, since it’s abstracted from the particular individual.

Benefits of STEALTH Debriefs

Murphy summarizes the benefits of using STEALTH debriefs:

“The goal of an effective debrief is to generate valuable lessons learned, then to institutionalize those lessons learned into a core of best business practices. Once that is done, the lessons learned are transferred throughout the company.

What does this accomplish?

1. Learning is accelerated, which is a process.

2. Experience is increased, which is an asset.

These two combine to improve future execution, which, as we know, affects the bottom line. … That’s the power of the debrief. It identifies problems (or opportunities) and accelerates the spread of the resulting solutions.”

7-Step STEALTH Debriefs

Murphy outlines the STEALTH debrief technique:

  1. S. Set time / location / preparation. Let everyone know what they need to bring to the debrief. Start and end on time. Don’t let the debrief degrade into an endless postmortem. Another key is identifying objectives, such as what future actions are desired. Will you do things better? Will you pass along the good stuff to others? Are you changing future plans and/or strategy
  2. T. Tone (Nameless, rankless, open communication; lead by example) In this step, you do an inside outside criticism. You criticize yourself first (inside) and then to your team for criticism (outside). You start by listing your mistakes. When you talk about the team mistakes you observed, you keep it nameless by using third person (you substitute roles or positions, for example, the wingman, the architect, the developer … etc.)
  3. E. Execution versus objectives. In this step, you ask the question, how well did you execute based on what you said you were doing to do? That’s it. How well did you do. Focus on results rather than objectives. What did you get done, what did you not get done? … If you did not get it done, why?
  4. A. Analyze execution. Here you determine the underlying causes of problems or issues. Look for the root cause.
  5. L. Lessons learned. In this step, find the prominent or recurring root cause that bridges together several errors or successes. A lesson learned comes out of a pattern of recurring root causes. Lessons learned are systematic issues.
  6. T. Transfer lessons learned throughout your organization. In this step, you tell people what you’ve learned. The specific fix you recommend needs to be clearly written so that others within your organization can understand the issue and benefit from the solution even if they were not there.
  7. H. High note – positive summation. End the debrief on a high note. After dissecting a mission, admitting errors, and underscoring successes, you have to end the debrief with something positive.

If you want to debrief more effectively, try the 7-step STEALTH Debrief.


  1. I attend a lots of meetings, many times as a leader to present some work done. It is very common that people start the meeting with small talks which quickly become topic’s discussion but in very sporadic manner. Here is what i do – i let folks talk about 10 minutes – small talks is unavoidable. While they talk I usually utilize white board to silently write the following: goal of the meeting, the deliverable to be discussed, the process, expectations. While I write people start to notice me and slowly transition to focus on what I write naturally. Once I got their focus I read loudly what I wrote and do my best to lead the meeting according to what was written on the whiteboard.

  2. The whiteboard technique is very effective — it’s like we have to watch what the teacher is writing on the board.

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