Action Learning

What is Action Learning?

Action Learning is a process that involves asmall group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as an organization. It helps organizations develop creative, flexible and successful strategies to pressing problems.

Action Learning has emerged as a method of choice for global companies, governmentagencies, and non-profit groups that want to improve quality, cut costs, create new productsand services, and change the cultures of their organizations. From Boston to Brazil, from Finland to Tokyo, companies as diverse as Microsoft, Samsung, Dow, GE, Deutsche Bank, Boeing, Sodexho, Novartis, Nokia and many others use Action Learning to solve complex problems, develop leaders, build teams and expand corporate capability.

Since Reg Revans first introduced it to coal miners of Wales and England in the 1940s, Action Learning has become a dynamic process that assists organizations to challenge the status quo, and to develop creative, flexible and successful strategies. Action Learning positions inquiry at the core of organizational behavior, develops critical thinking and creates mutual respect among employees at all levels. The focus on inquiry speaks to Peter Senge’s concern that organizations should move from institutional training to a learning environment.

Action Learning solves dilemmas of all sizes, and is particularly effective with complex problems that may appear unsolvable. It elevates the norms, the collaboration, the creativity and the courage of groups that solve problems of great urgency to the organization.

Action Learning solves problems and develops leaders simultaneously because its simple rules force participants to think critically and work collaboratively, and because the group’s coach, the Action Learning coach, assists group members to reflect, not on their problem solving, but on the elevation of their group functioning and on examples of their leadership skills. Action Learning participants become effective leaders as they solve difficult problems.

Action Learning Components

Action Learning is a process of insightful questioning and reflective listening.

Action Learning tackles problems through a process of first asking questions to clarify the exact nature of the problem, reflecting and identifying possible solutions, and only then taking action. Questions build group dialogue and cohesiveness, generate innovative and systems thinking, and enhance learning results.

The problem should be urgent, significant, and the responsibility of the team to resolve.

The Action Learning team is ideally composed of 4-8 people, ideally with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Action Learning tackles problems through a process of asking questions to clarify the exact nature of the problem. Action is taken after reflecting and identifying possible solutions. Questions build group dialogue and cohesiveness, generating innovative and systems thinking.

Action Learning requires that the group be able to take action on the problem it is working on. If the group makes recommendations only, it loses its energy, creativity and commitment.

Solving an organizational problem provides immediate, short-term benefits to the company. The greater, longer-term strategic value to the organization is the learning gained by each group member and the group as a whole as well as the application of the learning throughout the organization.

The Action Learning coach helps the team members reflect on both what they are learning and how they are solving problems. The coach enables group members to reflect on how they listen. They then reframe the problem, and give feedback on how the team plans and works together.

The Action Learning coach also helps the team focus on what they find difficult, what processes they employ, and the implications of these processes on what they achieve. With this information, teams can grow and become more cohesive.