Category Archives: Blog

Does action learning increase performance?

ACI_PerformanceImprovmentWe are often asked how do you demonstrate that action learning is an effective, powerful and cost-effective methodology for developing individuals, teams and organisations?

Our Associates meet regularly in pairs or small working groups to discuss current pieces of work, client requests, programme design, quality of practice, depth of learning and all things action learning.  Once a year, however, we get together as a larger group of Associates to explore a particular aspect of action learning practice in more detail.  The purpose of these Associates’ days is to maintain and improve the quality of our practice and to re-connect as a group.  The specific purpose of our recent Associates’ day was to strengthen our capacity to evaluate action learning interventions and to develop practical methods for demonstrating the efficacy of action learning programmes. (more…)

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What do UK businesses need? What can action learning contribute?

A study commissioned by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) on the challenge UK businesses face in recruiting and developing skilled leaders and managers found that:

  • between 2007 and 2017 an additional 2.2 million new managers will be needed  in the UK. I.3 million to replace those retiring and 0.8 to manage increasing numbers
  • 93% of survey respondents said that low levels of management skills are having a direct impact on their business
  • only 18% of employers expect candidates to have received management training prior to being appointed to a management position so the majority are expected to learn on the job, often with little or no support
  • there is a dire shortage of softer leadership and management skills.  Organisations consistently struggle to find managers at every level who are emotionally intelligent, inspirational and creative – attributes which are considered critical for 21st Century management as businesses adapt to diversity, complexity and change. (more…)
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Action learning – high challenge and high support for project development by guest blogger Tony McBride

_MG_9524_CP8Project background & challenges

In February Cardboard Citizens were delighted to receive an Extension Award from the Wellcome Trust to further develop a theatre project exploring neuroscience and The Heritage of Violence. It’s an ambitious project and one made more so by a very tight schedule.  Although the project was designed and funded to go into schools, we had no firm commitment from our identified schools, just a conviction that it would be of interest to them.  But a niggling doubt remained – Is it something that they need and want?  What happens if not?

 Action learning set – high challenge/high support

At the time when these challenges were being faced, I had been a member of an action learning set funded by A New Direction (AND) for three months and had contributed to presentations made by other set members – asking clarifying, then open questions to support and challenge the presenter towards identifying specific actions towards desired outcomes.

Having decided to present, I had a decision to make:  whether to present on a personal work related issue, or to use the opportunity to present on the A Heritage of Violence project.  Having been reassured that it was ok to present on a specific project, I decided to do so.  I’m glad I did. (more…)

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What about the pitfalls and risks of action learning?

TimeI am sometimes asked “what happens when it goes wrong?” and “what are the classic mistakes or pitfalls of action learning?”

Careful contracting within the action learning set makes clear the importance of all being present but a classic pitfall in action learning is the challenge of agreeing dates and securing full attendance.

This is a reflection of the pressurised organisations we work with and the number of external priorities set participants face from other stakeholders.  People are under pressure to release their own development time for whatever organisational challenge they face.  Poor set attendance impacts the energy in the set because members do not participate in each other’s presentations and are not there to feedback on actions. (more…)

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Profound applications of action learning

willow-buttercups-smlAs well as facilitating action learning I am a humanist celebrant and conduct a number of funerals every month.  I didn’t anticipate there being a connection between the two roles but what I’ve found is that action learning’s style of questioning is so helpful in drawing out the story of somebody’s life from family members who are often feeling fragile and chaotic in the midst of bereavement.  I find it helps me to keep myself out of the picture and focus entirely on eliciting from the family what they really want said about their loved one. I then have everything I need to write the funeral script. (more…)

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Do you really listen to what other people are saying? by guest blogger Judith Cross

Judith Cross

Judith Cross, Clore Social Leadership Fellow

When did you last stop thinking about: things that were bothering you; how busy you are; things you had forgotten to do and still needed to do; where you were going next; who was going to pick up the kids from school; what you were having for dinner; and really listen?

When did you last really pay attention to what someone was saying without thinking halfway through their sentence how you would be responding and letting your mind wander?

When did someone last really listen, and I mean really listen to what you were saying?

When did someone, anyone, last give you time and space to think things through; support you to develop your ideas; and allow silence

We live in a world where our lives are lived at such a fast pace, always on the go, always thinking ‘what next?’ (more…)

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Facilitator training July 2014 – never the same river twice

RiverFacilitating an action learning set – for real – is at the heart of our training course for facilitators.  Just as the best way to understand action learning is by doing it, so too the best way to understand the challenges and opportunities of being a facilitator is also by doing it.  Although we cover some key theory on the course, and also help participants to consider how they will put use their skills in their individual contexts, most of the course time is spent facilitating action learning, with each person taking a turn to facilitate.  It’s an intensive experience – participants have come together to learn how to facilitate, and at the same time, they are working as a temporary action learning set.

When I ran a facilitator training course last month, with six participants from very diverse backgrounds, I was struck by how  this intensive, repeated experience of action learning operates on different levels.  There is learning about the skills of facilitation, but there is also learning about being in an action learning set – both as an issue-holder and as a supporter.  We noticed over the three days how much more skilful participants were becoming as set members, as well as honing their facilitation skills.  By the end of the course, the quality of questioning had deepened, with more probing and challenging questions, and the group was working more effectively together.

How did this happen?  Simply, by reflecting each time someone facilitated and sharing our thoughts.  We asked what had worked well and what could have been done differently; we reviewed those moments which had puzzled or surprised us; and each person received rich feedback on how they had facilitated the set.  Although there was repetition of the process, the content was always different.  As the saying goes: “you can never step in the same river twice”.  Or, as one participant commented at the end of the course: “I have to admit that when I saw that we were going to do seven action learning sets, I thought that by the end I’d be bored… but the reality was that each of them was so educational”.  For me, each time I run a course, it reaffirms that the process of practising, reflecting, and having dialogue with open-minded people is, quite simply, an enormous pleasure. If you think you might enjoy it too, why not find out more about our open action learning facilitator training courses? 

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Capturing the learning journey – accreditation for action learning facilitators

reflective-learning-log

A creative approach to one person’s learning journey as captured in her reflective learning log

Recently I had the great opportunity to run a day to accredit six people who had attended our three day open action learning facilitator training course.  The accreditation day brings together people to reflect on their learning and explore their development since training to be action learning facilitators.

It is exciting to spend the day with newly experienced action learning facilitators and to hear how they are using their skills in a range of settings and diverse applications. A key theme that emerged was confidence – many people expressed an initial degree of uncertainty about running their own sets.  All had powerful experiences of sticking to the classic model using open questions, getting presenters to reflect on open questions and decide their own actions. As a result trust in the process was really high.  Action learning is a process that needs to be experienced rather than taught – both for those in action learning sets and those learning to facilitate. (more…)

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Using different models in an action learning set – pros and cons

1741The recent ALF (Action Learning for Facilitators) event was its usual high quality gathering.  Designed by Anne Layzell and Geoffrey Wolfson and led by Anne Layzell, the purpose of the day was to explore different models and techniques used within action learning.

ALF days follow a standard format with proposition and discussion in the morning and work in action learning sets in the afternoon. The framework for this discussion comprised four questions (devised by Anne and Geoffrey):

Is anything (i.e. any models or techniques) off-limits and, if they are, why are they?

  • What are the benefits or introducing models and techniques (to the ‘pure’ or ‘classic’ model)?
  • What are the reasons against?
  • Does the sort of facilitator you are colour your answers to the above questions? (more…)
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The keys to successful self-facilitation in action learning

ALSOne of the major benefits of action learning is that an action learning set is able to continue without a facilitator once members have mastered the action learning process.  Many sets we work with – whether in-house or as part of a peer network programme – continue in this way.  Self facilitation allows them to build longer term peer development networks of real benefit to themselves and at low cost.

Interestingly Reg Revans had no place for facilitators and wrote always of the power of the set working together.

“The Primacy of the Set…..small and stable set of comrades in adversity, regularly disciplining themselves in their observations and their analyses, more realistically appraising and more sensitively applying the limitless stores of their own lived experience” (more…)

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