So you’re home from a spectacular mission trip. Now what? This blog series breaks down the what, why, and how of a post-mission debrief. For both great memories and stressful experiences, a thorough debrief is perhaps one of the most important parts of the trip. It helps solidify in individual hearts all the things God was pouring into each team member. It can also redirect a fixated memory from stressful situations by recalling the stories and events where God was working extraordinarily.
Part 4: Trouble-shooting to Keep your Debrief on Track
Timing for your at-home debrief is recommended at two weeks home. This timing is because, for the most part, your team will have the jet-lag taken care of and be semi-caught up at work or at home, so each is carrying less stress than when you first arrived home. The strain on the body from the travel and long hours will have let up too. However, the excitement will still be palatable in the room when the team reunites. It works best to conduct this final big debrief in person.
There are always exceptions. If a face-to-face debrief is not working out within 2-3 weeks, or if your team is spread out to different locations around the country, you can conduct the debrief online. Though not as warm and fuzzy as “one last team meal together,” it will work just fine.
Trouble-shooting Three Common Debrief Issues
The #1 issue I’ve run into during the final debrief is the talker. You know who I mean in your group; every group has one. They don’t mean to dominate the conversation, they just process their experiences out loud and end up monopolizing all the allotted time. These folks have generally been told they talk too much all their lives, so it is important to be gentle when interacting with them, and never bring shame by correcting them in front of the team.
If you have two of them, believe it or not, if you put them together in a room, they will enjoy the heck out of it, and be able to each talk to their heart’s content, and get all their processing done at the same time. I don’t know how this miracle works, but I’ve been told by verbal processors that it does.
Some non-verbal cues you may be able to offer to help the talker when he/she interrupts the team debrief is to turn to the talker with an open hand palm up (inviting) and eye contact or look at their face if they are looking elsewhere, they should perceive you in their peripheral vision. Give them a couple of seconds to complete a single thought, then nod once, and return your eye contact to the original speaker. Also move your open palm from pointing toward the talker back to the original speaker. Do not let that new eye contact drop. And you may even say, “Go on” or “Please continue with that thought.”
If you have a good relationship with your Talker, you might find it helpful to explain before the meeting what you are going to do with your non-verbal cues, since most of the time, the Talker has trouble picking up on social cues. It might work to ask them to come in a few minutes early or talk on the phone before the team arrives and explain how you want the debrief to move along and ask for their help in helping the group conform to the pattern you want to establish of everyone participating equally. And you may very well need that help: problem #2 is the non-participator.
It is not usually that this person won’t talk. It is usually just in brief, surface answers. This person needs your help to draw them out with specific questions and be given the time and space--without people interrupting--to think before answering a debrief question. A solution with a non-participator that you may have already noticed in your in-country debriefs is to provide the questions for this person ahead of time, so he or she has quiet time alone to think and anticipate which aspects of their experience they are willing to share. This person is likely an inward processor, and has experienced a rich trip, and has many unique insights, but they need space to share, and won’t talk over the rest of the group.
Turning Mediocre or Negative Experiences Around
If your team had some negative experiences that they brought home with them, the questions at the team debrief can be put together in such a way that the team members can choose to let go of those negative memories and replace them with positive memories. Remember from part 1, as they do this they are actually making new neurological paths in their brain and over-writing those bad memories! It is amazing. It is not that they are ignoring those bad experiences, but they are not allowing their brains to replay those toxic-memory tapes over and over again, reinforcing the yuck that comes with them. If there is any forgiveness that needs to happen, that should be done first, and then start focusing on what Jesus was doing in the person or circumstances, what has been learned, what will be done differently, how it helped form character in the team member(s). You may need to acknowledge a hurtful or embarrassing situation, but even if it is a traumatic circumstance they’ve experienced, always turn those memories back to positive memories they also have of the trip.
IRL Example of Changing Negative Memories
I once trained and sent on the field a team of seven people that never gelled well. Part of the group was not interested in team meetings in-country, and while they “worked together” just fine, the bonding on the team never gave them the compassion they needed to love and respect each other. They came home angry and irritated with one another. It was a mess!
In this case, I pushed the team debrief off to the three-week mark and during the first 2 weeks called each team member to debrief individually on the phone. The question I worked into each debrief as I was trying to figure out what happened was, “Where did you see God at work in your teammates while you were in _____?”
With each person getting to tell their “side” of the story and then answering this question and the questions in Part 5’s samples, it changed the team dynamics completely.
The team that came together for the 3-week debrief told totally different, wonderfully positive stories about one another and all they saw God accomplish in them and through them. They were caring and complimentary toward one another. As an outsider who had not accompanied them, it felt to me like they were describing a completely different trip. And that is when I knew this debriefing stuff really works!
Part 5 will provide a sample of questions by category that you can tweak and use for your next debrief.
The Debrief For Missions Teams
Kim Frolander, Vineyard Missions Blogger
Kim Frolander started attending Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. She spent two years as a volunteer/missionary in Jerusalem, Israel, and upon coming home, she trained with Bubba Justice and led missions at IVC for 3.5 years. Now she uses her experience and degrees in research and writing, (formally known as English and History) for curating resources for Vineyard Missions. She has authored eight books and recently founded a non-profit ministry, the Ruth Israel Initiative.