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Debriefing a Case: Purpose and Best Practices for Collaborative Professionals


Because Collaborative Practice relies on well-functioning teams, frequent communication is necessary. Professionals should “debrief” following each meeting and following a completed case. The “debrief” I am referring to is the post case wrap-up meeting.

The overall objective of the debrief is for each professional to learn something and become a better Collaborative Professional. Each person participating in a debrief may have unique, specific goals – but everyone should be able to walk away from it with a greater understanding of what went well in the case and what could be improved so that, on their next case, they can incorporate the insights gained in the debrief.

In my ideal world, a debrief takes place with all professionals who were ever on the team. Those professionals attend in person at a neutral location.

In advance of the debrief, each professional completes a data form that summarizes several aspects of the case, including their individual perspective of the process and the case. I use a data form modeled after one the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) created.

On cases that go relatively well, a debrief is still necessary. People tend to think, “Oh, it went well. We don’t need to debrief.” But I can tell you from experience, even on “easy” cases when the group gets together, some professionals have different experiences of the case. I always learn something.

In more complex cases, the professionals will gain much more from an in-person debrief. I also suggest:

  • Retaining a neutral facilitator. This allows each professional the freedom to fully be present without having to manage the debrief process itself.
  • Meeting in a safe, neutral space that is private (i.e., not a public space like a restaurant) is paramount so that everyone can share authentically.


To debrief a case that fails to reach a full settlement requires special care. Every person on the team will need to be able to speak freely and intimately about…

  • How they perceived the situation;
  • How they were feeling; and
  • What they did.


By definition, if a case failed or almost failed to reach a full settlement, at least one person in the room feels responsible for the break down. More likely, each person in the room felt responsible at some point in time. If you truly want to become a better practitioner, everyone needs to be able to share freely how they felt. The purpose is not to point fingers or cast blame on a particular person but for everyone to learn and better themselves as professionals.

A few more thoughts…

  • On the subject of attending by phone – because it always comes up on the simple and the complex debriefs – geography creates obstacles. Still, meeting in person is best. If someone attends by phone rather than in person, they and the team lose out.
  • In my opinion, if a person declines to debrief, it means that they are not serious about becoming the best practitioner that they can be. Everyone has different goals for their life, so I don’t judge them. However, I believe a professional has a duty to better the entire field and that (even if they don’t want to improve themselves) they should give a couple of hours of their time now and then to help other practitioners.
  • A debrief is different than “Peer Facilitation”. Peer facilitation is used when a case is going badly. It usually takes place during a case to get things back on track. Each person on the team has the right (in my opinion, duty) to request Peer Facilitation if they feel it is needed. CLII has a Peer Facilitation Confidentiality Agreement that each person attending signs. A debrief occurs after the case; the facilitator can be a group member or a neutral party. Both processes have the overarching goal of helping professionals learn from the situation.


As Collaborative Practice professionals, we may feel, at times, that we are in unexplored territory. With each case, we have the opportunity to learn and set new standards for ourselves and our field. The explanations and best practices defined here will hopefully help you and your team with your next debrief.

Please add to this conversation by comment below… What has worked for you in your debriefs? What lessons have you taken away that might not have been evident without the debrief?


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