Brief Overview of Action Learning
Organizations can significantly increase their internal capacity for leadership development, team building, innovation and problem-solving by using Action Learning.
Action Learning is a process developed over the last 60 years that is now being used by several brand-recognizable companies like Microsoft, Samsung and SONY as well as countries worldwide including the USA, Canada, China, India, Singapore and France. A number of financial institutions, universities, governmental agencies and international organizations like the Organization of American States have found Action Learning to be of great benefit. The Canadian-funded Caribbean Leadership Project is currently using Action Learning to develop public sector leaders of thirteen CARICOM countries so that they can transform the public service.
What differentiates Action Learning from other methods is that participants work on real problems to achieve breakthrough solutions on which specific actions must be taken and they are all required to learn identified leadership skills during the process. The six components of Action Learning are: a real-life problem to which there is no easy tried and proven solution; a group of six to eight persons committed to working on the problem; iterative questioning and reflective process; three levels of learning – individual, group, organization; emerging strategies and actions for which an identified owner is responsible for implementing; an Action Learning Coach.
Within an hour or two, persons who have never worked together before, develop solid rapport and mutual respect in an Action Learning session. There is no other process that can yield so many individual and organizational benefits all at once. Moreover, Action Learning is very simple in its elegance. So your key representatives, talent development staff and line managers can quickly and easily learn how to use Action Learning to achieve phenomenal results. Action Learning has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to give your employees, work teams and organization a leading edge.
How Your Company may use Action Learning
With the “Guiding Coalition”
The person with overall responsibility for the transformation (Chairman or Managing Director or other identified leader) could use an Action Learning session with the inner circle or Guiding Coalition on the problem of how best to aim the strategic thrust of the organization. Action Learning does not allow any one member to pontificate. The process ensures that each member of the group is fully engaged to the same extent. The leader would come away from that session with some breakthrough strategies based on the best thinking of the group. For the first two Action Learning sessions, we strongly recommend that you use an external Certified Action Learning Coach. For subsequent sessions you can use internal coaches that you develop for that purpose thereby reducing your reliance on external consultants to solve deep organizational and business problems.
Building Teams within the Organization
List the critical teams that need to immediately improve their effectiveness; then use Action Learning to develop these teams, enabling them to chart a way forward in which they contribute optimally to the organization’s vision. If there is a sense that some teams need to be disbanded or restructured, then Action Learning may be used to help the members own this problem and buy in to the most efficacious solution.
Solving Cross-functional Problems and Building Cohesiveness across the Organization
Those problems that require cross-functional input are best addressed through Action Learning which rapidly builds rapport and mutual respect among all participants. Action Learning groups made up of persons from different teams would be an excellent mechanism to help persons across the organization to become more aware of the challenges being addressed by different teams. Identify the key problems that have seemed insurmountable in the past and problems anticipated by the organization. Then select 6 to 8 persons from different functional areas to work on each problem through Action Learning. Each group could identify some breakthrough strategies, while at the same time developing teamwork/collaboration among functions as well as developing strong leadership skills.
Each Action Learning session requires each participant to select a leadership skill they intend to practice during the session. At the end of the session each member of the group is asked to indicate how they thought they did with the selected leadership skill. Other participants are also asked to give the member feedback with specific examples of instances in which the skill was used during the session. This allows persons to develop leadership skills in real time. Leadership skills may be selected from three different methods. At the start of the session all participants may be asked to brainstorm to generate a list of leadership skills they thought to be critical to the organization. Then from that list each participant chooses one skill they wanted to develop further. Alternatively, the organization may have determined for each participant through performance assessments and other means the particular leadership skill that needed strengthening. The participants are then asked to work on the leadership behaviours required of them by the organization. A third less preferred method is for the Action Learning Coach to present a generic list of skills from which participants choose. Typical leadership behaviours that may be practiced in an Action Learning session include: asking insightful questions, deep listening, systems thinking, clear and concise communication, strategic thinking, visioning, humility, moving the discussion forward, support for others, initiative, building the team.
In addition to developing leaders currently in position, this method helps the organization to develop a pool of qualified candidates for promotion to leadership positions.