Friday, 3 October 2008

Action Learning - the Final Part

OK, in parts 1 and 2 we looked at how action learning works, the principles and also who needs to be involved. In this final part we are going to look at how to get action learning started in your organisation and how to best integrate it into other learning activities.

What do you need....?

Step 1: You Need Some Participants

It is really important that the people taking part in an Action Learning Set are there....because they want to be there. They should be open minded enough to approach the experience with a positive mindset - it is no place for cynicism. The individuals need to be prepared to share some of their issues and problems with the view to being able to resolve them via their participation in the group.

Try and get together a mix of people perhaps from different parts of the organisation or individuals with differing levels of experience. This all helps to provide the participants with a different view point on their problems and challenges. Hierarchy should be left at the door. However do avoid having an employee and their manager in the same group...

For your first Action Learning Set it may be useful to invite people who could become future facilitators. Having their own experience will be invaluable and of course they will also help to spread a positive message.

Step 2: You Need a Facilitator

In Part 2  I described the role of the facilitator and it is particularly important at the start of the action learning process. Whilst you ultimately want the group to be self facilitating they will almost certainly need a helping hand at the beginning.

The facilitator should have specific experience of action learning and will most probably also be experienced in coaching or mentoring. They need to be removed from the content and just facilitate the process.

Step 3: You Need a Sponsor

Ideally each participant should have someone senior sponsoring their participation. The sponsor should be interested in the outcomes and actions for the individual. A key reason that action learning fails is the struggle for individuals to find the time to participate. The sponsor can play a key role here.

Step 4: Select an Environment

This also shouldn't be underestimated. The environment should not contain any references to hierarchy and the layout should encourage the involvment of everyone (probably chairs in a circle). The participants may be wary of this to start with (it's not alcoholics anonymous.....) but it is an important part of the process. Clearly there are some ground rules to be agreed by the group ranging from turning off phones to commiting to follow through on 
any actions etc.

It is also worth thinking about how you will measure success for both the group and also the individuals. What are the outcomes that the individuals are looking for? Translating the outcomes into tangibles will make it easier for others to understand the benefits of the approach.

It's all in the blend....

As with all learning interventions success usually comes from providing a blend of learning offerings to your organisation. Action Learning can play a really important role on its own but can be even more powerful when integrated with other activities:
  • Following a formal learning intervention such as a classroom based course it can be extremely useful to form an action learning group for the paricipants. For example you may have been learning about emotional intelligence but the real learning comes when you return to work. That's where you need the support and coaching from an action learning group.
  • Think about how you can use action learning as a tool to develop your talent. You may wish to offer it to your 'High Potentials' initially to encourage their peer networking. It is also a great way for participants to develop their own coaching and listening skills.
  • Think about grouping your action learning sets into themes. For example you may want to start one for the sales community. They may all have a common goal of achieving their sales target but they will individually have their own sets of problems and challenges to overcome.
  • Think about how you can join up with action learning groups from other organisations. For example in the UK the Whitehall Industry Group (WIG) faciliate groups that span many organisations and sectors.
....and if you want more..

Action learning really does work and is most definitely worth the effort. If you want to find out more then here are some useful resources:-


john castledine said...

Great series - a very clear summary & some great reference links - THANKS

I see overlap with 'Problem Based Learning', especially where an organisation is seeking to guide the focus & outcome from Action Learning sets they sponsor.

See for a good intro on this approach

Chris Morgan said...

Yes, there are some similarities. Pure action learning is a lot about the individual being given the chance to reflect on their actions and to perhaps approach things differently. Each person in the group can be working on their own set of problems or working together.

In current times it is a great low cost form of development.