Through The Keyhole #39 – Why we use action learning groups

11 November 2016 | Lisa Stubbs | About a 3 minute read
Tags: Academy, action learning groups, Development, HBDI, Learning

So, what are action learning groups?

Action learning is an approach to solving real problems that involves taking action (based on a team’s suggestions) and reflecting upon the results, within small groups. This helps improve the problem-solving process, as well as the solutions developed by the team.

The action learning process includes:

  • a real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex
  • a diverse problem-solving team or “set”
  • a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection
  • a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a solution
  • a commitment to learning

Not only does this foster group and community thinking, we’ve also found it helps analysis and problem solving skills as well as coaching skills, including active listening.

Top tips if you want to implement action learning  

  • Use a skilled coach or facilitator for the first 3 sessions (at least). We use a coach, Jo Miles, who also facilitates our leadership workshops. Using a coach or facilitator ensures there is effective dialogue from the beginning
  • Keep the group size small(ish) – we’ve found six is a good number
  • Make it part of something wider, with an objective. Just having the action learning groups on their own could mean they just turn into discussions. The benefit comes from creating a community, a dialogue, and something that anchors this – like a leadership, manager or high potential programme, for example
  • Ensure people prepare before the action learning groups, so everyone comes with an issue which they are prepared to talk through and ask for help on
  • Get commitment on attendance. If people are going to feel comfortable in the group and open up to others, the group need to make attendance their priority
  • We also use @herrmannintl as a useful tool to facilitate the group, in particular their ‘team’ profile

AND this is what our people say about action learning…

‘My work and home life can feel impossibly busy sometimes, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of reacting to problems rather than tackling them properly. The action learning group gives me time and space to reflect, which is hugely valuable. Even better, I’ve got a group of peers whom I can always go to for a second opinion, so I feel much more supported… I know I don’t have to face any problems alone’ Jo Crossick, Product Developer

‘I could not believe how much people wanted to help solve my problem. Sometimes our own feelings tend to blind us in the work environment when we come across a problem. We do not always explore all of the solutions available to us. My action learning group is relentless in exploring further, often much further than I would have considered on my own’. Patrick Blondel, Squad Lead

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