Category Archives: Blog

International cultural programme trials action learning

exhibition-362163_640Bringing together eight partner organisations from Spain, Italy, Poland, Denmark, Belgium and the UK a new international programme called ADESTE aims to research, develop and define models of audience development in cultural organisations around the world.  Ruth Cook, ALA Managing Director and I have been working with participants on the pilot training programme since April – initially training them as action learning facilitators and now providing virtual support and accreditation. (more…)

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Growing action learning at the NSPCC

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????ALA is currently undertaking an exciting piece of work with a major children’s welfare charity, training their Consultant Social Workers (CSWs) – whose remit is to ensure quality of practice across the organisation – as action learning facilitators.  The CSWs then set up and run action learning sets for social work practitioners to tackle real practical challenges in their professional lives.  The aim is to build staff confidence, embed reflective practice and drive improvement on a number of themes including safeguarding.

To be accredited, the CSWs write a learning log reflecting on their own development as action learning facilitators.  Reviewing these logs for the most recent cohort, I was struck by how rich and multi-dimensional their learning had been, as illustrated by the quotes in italics below.

Personal impact

The cornerstone of our facilitator training is repeated experiences of working in an action learning set – as presenter, member and facilitator.  This process increases self-awareness: “I discovered some of the unknown about myself during the course” which in turn enables new ways of being: “it has made me think about things that impact on me in a different and more positive light.”  This personal experience of action learning meant that CSWs left the initial training with a deep and authentic belief in its benefits. “I went away feeling really positive and motivated about facilitating sets within the team where I am based.”

Using the skills in different contexts

The CSWs found that the ‘action learning approach’ of open questioning and active listening was useful in many other contexts. “The training has changed how I think about supporting others …not only do I feel more confident in my role, but I am empowering others to feel more confident about their skills in problem solving and decision making.”  Another participant reported that “clients are more willing to talk openly and think about their problems” after she consciously applied an action learning mindset in client meetings.  And another found it helpful in influencing a group of fellow professionals at a case conference: “the use of open questions enabled the group to think about the young person in a new way and consider other options.”

Impact on practitioners who attend the sets

Even at this early stage, there is evidence of positive impact on practitioners from the action learning sets that the CSWs are running.  Examples from feedback include:

  • the opportunity to think critically and deeply about practice dilemmas
  • building the ‘practice wisdom’ of the whole team by listening to cases from other services/commissions
  • increased confidence in multi-agency settings
  • ability to critically challenge own judgements and thereby make more effective interventions
  • improved cross-team communication and relationships

Each of these outcomes has the potential to benefit the children and young people who are the reason for the charity’s existence.  We look forward to gathering more evidence of the impact as the programme continues.  By creating opportunities for learning and change, action learning is proving itself a powerful tool for building organisational capacity.

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Too many people for an action learning set? Try using a fishbowl technique

fishbowlI run a development programme for aspiring leaders, with modules such as leadership challenges, collaborative working, performance coaching and strategic thinking.  Each module lasts two days, with the first day and a half focusing on workshop issues, inputs, exercises, diagnostic work and discussion. The afternoon of day two is always given over to action learning – providing an opportunity to explore issues emerging from each workshop. (more…)

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Commissioning in health and social care: Action learning as a process to support leaders dealing with complexity and change

No one can deny that the NHS is operating in a world which is changing at a scale and pace we have never seen. We are serving an increasingly older population with complex and enduring healthcare needs.  We are working in challenging financial circumstances, and yet our patients, quite rightly, have high expectations of the NHS and the quality of our servicesJan Sobieraj, Managing Director, NHS Leadership Academy

The focus of this article is to show how action learning can provide a powerful process to support NHS commissioners as they grapple with complexity, change and difficult choices on a daily basis. (more…)

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Action learning rises to the challenges of commissioning services for people with learning disability

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to run a pilot action learning set for those both commissioning and providing services for people with learning disability in the London Borough of Newham.  Action learning sets are classically comprised of peers so this membership created a real stretch/tension.  Providers who are in direct competition with each other would not normally work together in the same set.  So for me the challenge was how to create trust and endeavour to find creative solutions which would have a positive impact for vulnerable service users.   (more…)

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Action learning helps managers of UN Agencies face daily challenges

ALA251A OdgersI recently facilitated an action learning set for managers of United Nations agencies based in Geneva – these agencies included the World Trade Organization, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Telecommunications Union and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.  All the set members were UN employees delivering the work flowing from decisions made by UN delegates of member nations. (more…)

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Reflections on action learning through haiku from guest blogger Katherine Waumsley

This blog is based on extracts from a reflective learning log by Katherine Waumsley which she recently submitted for accreditation with the Institute of Leadership & Management after she trained as an action learning facilitator training with ALA.  Katherine chose to use haiku – a Japanese poetry form -to illustrate her learning and has kindly agreed to let us share her fascinating log.  

Part 1: Introduction

In order to reflect and present what I have learned through the action learning facilitator training, I have decided to use the form of haiku. Haiku is a well known Japanese poetry form, which generally uses only seventeen syllables, often in a 5 – 7- 5 arrangement.  I suspect this is a vast oversimplification of the form, but what I like about haiku is the way they can perfectly crystallise a moment in time. Traditionally, haiku often include a seasonal reference, but here, I just try to point to a specific clear idea, moment or learning.  One thing I love about haiku, is the way the limited syllables largely prevents the writer embellishing or pontificating too much. There is an honest clarity about this sort of creative writing which I also value in facilitation practice, so in this sense, it seemed to me to be an appropriate form to use in the reflective journal. (more…)

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Taking a Breather – the increasing trend for reflection

SA crop web2In a recent Guardian article Oliver Burkeman wrote about “Breather” – a fabulous US initiative where you can rent space which offers “peace and quiet on demand”.  Breather space can be rented by the hour in many major US cities. This raises the question – why do we think of retreat and restoration as rare occurrences – such as the luxury of taking a long holiday or a mindfulness retreat?

We underestimate the value of restoration and reflection in our lives, whether this is work or more. Neuroscientific research shows that to function well mentally we should work for 60-90 minutes and then take a refreshing break. Yet very few manage this ideal in the fast paced 24/7 world of connectivity. (more…)

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Silence is golden

silence-390331__180I’ve been thinking about listening a lot recently, as I’m working with several new action learning sets. What I have noticed is that at the beginning of the set’s life, there is a strong drive to ask questions, sometimes at the expense of actually listening to what the person talking about their issue is saying. It’s not unusual at this stage for group members to ask leading questions based on their own experience, rather than exploring the issue-holder’s experience. Group members can also feel under pressure to fill pauses with a question – any question. As a result, the issue-holder may end up spinning between questions, unable to do their best thinking. (more…)

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Becoming a leader, and becoming uncertain…

leadershipA lot of the work I do at the moment seems to be within large corporate organisations and working, specifically, with people who are starting out on their leadership journey.  Or perhaps it would be better to say, starting out on their formal leadership journey.  When we explore their influences and formative stories it is often clear they’ve been a leader or, perhaps, been becoming a leader for a long time.
What is usually the case is that I find myself working with people who are moving into managerial positions, looking to push on to senior manager, and possibly partner.  We come together to work in action learning sets as part of their development on that journey. And often the people I am working with are quite sceptical about the process at first… (more…)

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