On the face of it, it seems to be attractive and relevant in today’s demanding business environment. One question, which remains in limelight all the time is, “How can we help our people to develop the range of skills necessary to not only survive but to progress in the current unstable and difficult business environment?”
Action Learning is centered around a belief in the potential of the individual. It proposes that we learn from our actions and from what happens to us when we take these actions. We learn from taking the time to question and reflect on what we have learned so that we can gain insights and consider how we will act in the future. The two other important elements to Action Learning are that it is done as a group exercise and this group meet on a regular basis to question and reflect. The group work together on action and learning. They do this through rigorous discussion and reflection on the outcomes of their activities.
For participants in an Action Learning group, it means working and learning simultaneously and sharing the experience with others. The focus is on workplace issues, problems and questions. These might involve an individual’s managerial and personal development, team work, staff management, the introduction of changes, or any issue that is of concern to them.
Action Learning presupposes that our daily activities provide us with endless opportunities to learn. Because of the endlessly changing environment in the workplace, Action Learning provides a forum to enable others to learn from our experiences, both good and bad. Action Learning questions the myth that learning is something that takes place only in the training room or on a training course. It is based on our experience that we learn best in our own working environment rather than somewhere like a training room which has little connection with our own reality-the workplace.
In fact, we are learning all the time, at work and outside work. We learn as much from our mistakes as from our successes. However, we do not make learning a conscious activity. It is an integral part of our normal working day. Nor do we make it explicit. Significantly, we rarely share our learning with others so that they can benefit. We do not question our conclusions to check their validity. We don’t always check out our assumptions and prejudices. We tend to act purely on our own judgements, even though other people’s insights can be so valuable. We would be much better off if we could create the opportunity to work and share our learning with others in a constructive manner.
Action Learning, More Than Brain Storming
Are your teams constantly rehashing the same issues and getting stuck in the same discussions? Do you find your business teams unable to innovate and bring new ideas to the table?
Beware of Complacency! It is easy to assume that what we are doing is the best possible. Just because it brings results doesn’t mean that it is the best result.
Action Learning will infuse your organization with a renewed ability to create, innovate, problem-solve and thrive under conditions of change. Action learning is a process used to help leverage team learning, with the goal of creating action plans that relate to real work issues.
The Action Learning group meets to reflect, discuss and question each other. This allows teams to tap into members’ different skill sets, experience and expertise, which facilitates learning from experience.
The fact that action learning groups take place in the work environment, allows for:
1. Transfer of knowledge that is more immediate
2. Insightful questioning
3. Learning in the moment
4. Reflection on best practices
5. Real-time problem-solving
Make Sure Everyone Participates:
To get the most out of Action Learning, the goal or objective must be clearly understood by all participants.
Therefore, it is key to have a facilitator, and although an outside facilitator is preferable, someone in the team who has the understanding of facilitating, could do this function.
The facilitator must:
1. be mindful of the process
2. make sure the right questions are asked
3. keep the process on track
4. assure that all participants are engaged in the process
It is very important that the participants have a desire to be there and understand the need to create a solution.
How to Know When the Solution is Found:
The number of meetings may have been predetermined, but as the process of meetings and real life environment progress over time, fewer or more meetings may be required. Also, if the objective was very clear and understood from the outset the team will progress toward the objective.
By tapping into the knowledge and expertise held within the group, efficient problem solving can evolve and an environment of “thinking outside the box” is fostered. This process in most cases is cyclical, in that when a presumed solution is implemented, after reflection, the use of the solution may lead to a modified and better solution.
Because the team lives the environment first hand and are in the process of evaluation, they are the ones who will know when the best solution is reached.
Be Aware of Repetitive Mistakes:
Be aware of repetitive conversations, this prevents the team from seeing the forest for the trees. Avoid always using the same method or approach to solving problems, this tends to lead to similar solutions. (One size does not fit all).
Try to use different words in the discussions, this will help generate different approaches and ideas probably never considered.
Action learning is not a new idea, it was devel
oped in the 1940’s right after the Titanic sank. Maybe it’s time to implement Action Learning in your teams before… well… it’s too late.
Action learning aims at creating opportunities to become conscious of what we do, how we think, and what we believe. If Action Learning is used within organization it will eventually create a climate of learning and development. How much change occurs as a direct result of common training methods? How do we know?