If you work on a programme that has a daily debrief, you’d probably be delighted to get rid of that tedious after-show meeting where you pick apart what you just did. And most people involved agree (I’m sure of it), so why do most of us still do it? I was absolutely delighted when I first joined the Jeremy Vine Show team to find they don’t bother.
I’m mainly talking about news programmes. My experience is mainly within the BBC. And usually it’s the ‘bigger shows’ that have a daily debrief. From the local radio breakfast show in the counties of x y and z, to PM on Radio 4 (and everything in-between) – a gathering after the programme to look back at what worked and what didn’t is common.
Thing is, they’re boring, time-wasting, negative, and rarely result in big changes to the way things are done. Rather than improving and shaping the programme over time, they drain motivation, waste resources and have the capacity to make people feel crap.
If you’re learning your trade (eg. on a journalism course or in student radio) then great, why not? You need to be self-critical and spot your weaknesses. But once you’re getting paid to produce a daily news programme you should know what sounds good and what doesn’t; what worked on air and what didn’t quite fire. You’ll know it the second you hear it. Presenters and producers only need to glance at each other to share the enjoyment of something incredible on air, or to appreciate when they know something hasn’t quite worked. If there’s a bigger problem, you can have a separate chat about it. Ongoing issues will come out in normal conversation a bit later on.
But if you set aside a specific time for a ‘debrief’, certain things will happen:
- you will have one extra meeting in your day to attend, and no-one likes meetings, because they’re mostly a waste of time.
- there will be some obligatory back-slapping. “That was great!”, people will say. Some members of staff will feel buoyed by this. However…
- at meetings everyone feels pressure to contribute at least something. And the point of a debrief is to be self-critical to improve. So everyone will have something slightly negative to say.
- you probably just did a great programme which was mostly as good as it could be, but people will say negative things about it.
- the programme is the culmination of a huge amount of work and on-air pressure. You’re all buzzing. So it’s the worst possible time to pick over the negatives.
- everyone will feel deflated.
- everyone will feel tired.
- very little will come of it.
Across the radio industry budgets only shrink. People complain of ever-diminishing resources. Yet a handful of staff on your station spending 30-minutes every day on a debrief adds up to hours of productivity which could be put to use elsewhere.
The ‘debrief’ should be continuous. In real-time. As a team you can share what you think has been brilliant with the right people as it happens. If something’s good tell them there and there. If they’re not in the same room send them a one-line email or tweet them. If there’s someone who did something wrong, tell them personally, later on. You know when something’s gone badly – you don’t need a tedious daily meeting to hammer that out.
If you ask people privately whether they think a daily debrief works really well, the vast majority say no. So why do we persist?