Category Archives: Blog

Developing “criticality” in action learning


John Heywood, ALA Associate and Chair of IFAL

As Chair of the International Foundation of Action Learning (IFAL) I recently attended a fascinating event about Critical Action Learning (CAL) led by Professor Kiran Trehan.  As always at IFAL events, we were offered a wonderful opportunity to challenge and question our practice as action learning facilitators

Mike Pedler says that the application of ‘critical theory’ is designed to ‘help the action learner stand outside the prevailing social or organisational situation in order to see how it could be different and changed for the better’.  CAL stresses the need for critical questioning and exposure of power relations within groups, of surfacing and understanding complex emotions and unconscious processes.  It suggests that, in order to do this, there may need to be a more active facilitation role.


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Bringing action learning to salespeople

Picture1One of the things I most enjoy about action learning is training other facilitators.  Working with participants for three full days offers a rich and immersive experience.  As each person takes their turn to facilitate, it’s exciting to see them build their understanding of action learning and increase their confidence.  And there’s a further depth of learning when participants opt for accreditation, which involves keeping a reflective log, and meeting again after a few months for a review. (more…)

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How can action learning contribute to increased land security for Muslim women?

Egyptian familyLast week I spent three days participating in a workshop organised by the Global Land Tools Network (part of UN-Habitat) with participants from Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Tunisia.  Two quotes stand out for me “Islam is innocent” – an impassioned plea for us to distinguish between the core principles of Islamic faith (which emphasise respect to all people and the need for land to be used responsibly and productively) with current traditional and national practice in particular contexts which may discriminate against women in significant aspects of their lives.

We heard about the amazing developments in Tunisia giving women new legal rights.  “We preserve the past, we own the present, we reshape the future” was the message we took away with some exciting ideas on the future work of the partners within the network. (more…)

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Stop silo activity. How peer action learning sets can help managers

houses_4130426Sml-360x256I have been facilitating an in-house action learning set in a large housing association with a number of different branches and businesses.  The set was formed from six middle managers who had a taster day first and then six sessions of action learning.  Each participant set individual learning goals which they shared with their peers and scored themselves against at the beginning and at the end of the sessions. Because they came from different parts of the business, not only did they support each other’s learning through the group processes, but they also learnt a lot more about the different parts of the company.  (more…)

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Unexpected benefits from action learning in teams


Monterrey, Mexico brings the unexpected

I have just returned from delivering action learning facilitator training in an unusual city, Monterrey in northern Mexico.  There was a lot about the event that was unexpected.  The city lies right beside some mountains and being flat desert area itself, attracts the most changeable weather.  The first two days were 29 degrees while the second two were one degree, with people struggling to get to work as a result of the snow on their cars.  Immediately afterwards the temperature soared again…..a real packing challenge. (more…)

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Curiosity, community and commitment – The Advance Network call to action – applications for action learning sets now open

about_photo_row1Over 60 people from the education sector, community groups, arts organisations and schools gathered for The Advance Network phase two launch in London on 10 February.  Among a panel of distinguished speakers, MD, Ruth Cook, talked about how the Network will run a programme of action learning sets  for leaders sharing a common commitment to creating greater ethnic diversity in the classical and jazz sector.  The overall theme which emerged from the event was the need for curiosity, community and commitment to bring about action and change.

Ruth Cook described how action learning can support organisational, social or sector change.  Sean Gregory, Director of Creative Learning for the Barbican Centre and Guildhall School of Music & Drama, also talked about his own experiences of action learning and why he finds time in a busy schedule to commit to his action learning set. To hear Ruth’s speech and other contributions at the launch click here.

For music sector leaders interested in exploring change in the diversity arena The Advance Network is offering places in action learning sets facilitated by ALA Associates – professional development that offers a comprehensive approach to meet both organisational and personal development.  The sets are open to leaders developing programmes to reach more diverse communities, music leaders, freelance music professionals working within diverse communities, cultural leaders, change agents, policy makers, independent consultants and board members – anyone interested in creating greater diversity within the cultural sector with the aim of bringing about change.  Set membership is heavily subsidised by the National Foundation for Youth Music and Arts Council England Lottery funding and costs just £99 for early bird bookings (before 17 February) or £130. For further details and an application form visit The Advance Network website.  Closing date for applications is 7 March 2014. 

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Models of action learning supporting business change projects

At a recent session of Action Learning Facilitators Forum (ALF) I ran a session on project-based action learning which examined how action learning can be integral to a business change programme (see previous blog “What comes first, the project or the Set?”) The second part of our workshop explored two models of action learning that can be used as integral to a business change programme and which supports delivery of change projects.  Groups explored the models concentrating on the following questions: What are the strengths of each model? What questions do they raise about the application of action learning? What’s the role of the ‘facilitator’? (more…)

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“What comes first, the project or the set?” – project-focused action learning

I recently ran a session on project-based action learning for the Action Learning Facilitators Forum (ALF) with some 20 people.  We had a lively dialogue about how to construct a learning process around complex change projects, and how action learning can be integral to a business change programme.

We looked at a number of components.  The project lifecycle forms the core around which learning is wrapped.  As shown in the diagram below, each step requires a focus on a range of activities and associated capabilities.  In a learning environment, we have created development events for internal project/change leaders to support each step. (more…)

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Accreditation milestone for action learning facilitator training

ILM Recognised Provider LogoWhen Ruth Cook runs her next action learning facilitator training course in London from 11-13 February ALA will have accredited 500 action learning facilitators.  Since introducing the Institute of Leadership & Management  accreditation in 2008, five hundred participants, including facilitators from Australia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, have successfully completed the ILM approved Professional Development Programme in Action Learning Facilitation.  This is in addition to the many action learning facilitators ALA has trained on open and in-house programmes over the past 15 years.

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Action learning – a campaigning tool?

I have always been interested in how action learning can change the world.  We often use it to support people whose work centres on social change but recently action learning has come one step closer to campaigning.


David Babbs, Director of 38 Degrees

David Babbs, Director of 38 Degrees – a UK based internet campaigning organisation – invited me to support the development of a network of similar campaigning organisations around the world.  We are now running a virtual action learning set for Executive Directors of these organisations who have been going for a few years, have staff and an established supporter base.  There are participants from Australia, Canada, Germany and the UK.


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