How Does Action Learning Work?

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How does Action Learning Work?

In most Action Learning programmes people work in small groups or sets of between 6-8, sometimes with an adviser or facilitator

Action learning sets work by:

Meeting regularly - The frequency and duration can vary depending upon these circumstances, the people and their problems. The set might choose to meet for a full or half day, weekly, fortnightly, monthly or six weekly, over 3 month, 6, 12 or 18 months. People in the set should decide how many meetings to have, where to hold them, for how long, and how to evaluate and so on. Often they are used for project management and started off by a facilitator who has initiated the action learning programme but it should be handed over to the set as soon as it is established. This project self management is a first step in people taking responsibility for their own actions and learning.

Consistent Membership - It is often impossible for everybody to be at every meeting, but more than one absence of any one member can hold back the effectiveness of the set.

Clients or stakeholders - This could be for example a more senior manager who holds members accountable for tackling the problems in the organisation and who may either be able to help or may turn out to be part of the problem.

Sharing-members perception of the problem to be tackled. This involved self-disclosure as people talk about feelings, fears, hopes, limitations, strengths and so on and also confidential information about their units and colleagues.

Ground rules to govern behaviour inside and outside the set. An example of a rule might be that all members have equal right to the time and attention of the set. Another might be that people cannot discuss ‘set business’ outside.

Supporting people- in their attempts at understanding, action and learning. A good set builds up over time in its ability to offer members both support and challenge to their existing views and perceptions. Warmth (or support) is often needed before light (to challenge) can be accepted.

Questioning where each person presents his or her status report or current understanding of the problem, whilst other members listen, express support, make suggestions, but above all pose questions. This may lead to questions that lead to the person questioning him or herself. It is this process which can lead to questioning insight or Q. Sets improve in their ability both to support and to challenge as they mature.

Group process- whereby the set forms and develops. Members having got to know each other’s problems and then helping each person reflect on that action in order to learn. In a mature set there is that sense of comradeship - of being ‘all for one and one for all’ - where all members take pleasure and satisfaction whenever one person has a small victory and gets a new insight into the situation.

Review- in which the set stops work on problems and reflects on how well the group as a whole is working. “How effective are we in helping each other act and learn?” Facilitation and evaluation are key processes that must happen in any set.

Facilitator- whose ‘role’ is to help the set develop, to facilitate the supporting and challenging processes, and to help members reflect on their learning. The facilitator’s main purpose is to do with helping members towards more profound understanding of themselves and of their worlds. If there is no facilitation in the set, members must ensure these ‘process’ tasks are accomplished.

What does it mean to be involved in action learning?
There is no fixed may of running an Action Learning set, no British standards applies! Much will depend on the individuals, and the environment and circumstances from which they come.

Ground Rules

Given the range of expectations which individuals might bring it is extremely important to establish some ground rules early one. These need to be shared and agreed within the group, and everyone needs to...
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