What is action learning?
Action Learning is a process that involves a small group of people solving real problems, taking action, and learning while doing so. It is a powerful program that creates dynamic opportunities for individuals, teams, leaders and organizations to learn and develop. At its best, action learning integrates and finely balances business results for the organization with the development of individuals and team skills.
Business driven action learning is being used widely around the world within private and public sectors in every domain of management and leadership. Action learning has been used in organizations to bring about fresh perspectives around adaptive change and to move practical ideas forward in the organization.
How does action learning work?
To work effectively action learning gains the support of and actively involves the most senior levels of the organization or business, and many internal stakeholders. It integrates a significant outside-in perspective through the involvement and contribution of outside stakeholders and benchmark organizations.
Teams work on real and significant business issues and challenges. Teams generally address unfamiliar problems rather than problems in which they have expertise, as might be more common in task forces. Addressing unfamiliar problems results in fresh perspectives being brought to bear on problems and provides individuals the opportunity to learn new ways to address problems.
In this context, action learning seeks to balance the quest for tangible results and innovative ideas with multiple opportunities for reflective learning, dialogue and leadership development. Team and individual coaching is considered to be one of the most critical success factors for action learning programs because of the bias that often emerges in favor of the action side of the equation.
What does a typical experience look like?
Action learning initiatives are custom programs designed to meet the specific the business needs and learning objectives of the sponsoring organizations. In a typical program, teams are assigned their project during a “launch” module and have the opportunity to assess its scope, design a research plan and develop a modus operandi for working together. Teams are supported by a learning coach and draw upon their executive sponsor, other resources and external stakeholders as needed. They interact and meet as needed once the project has been launched. During the final module, the team finalizes its work and prepares to engage in an open dialogue with their sponsor(s)/owner(s).
Throughout this process, the learning coach draws upon his/her observation of team dynamics, individual contributions and learning needs to intervene in the system and support the team in achieving their mandate and development goals. Other learning components are included in the program depending on the learning objectives of the sponsoring organization(s).
Projects we have supported in recent years have centred on the following challenges:
Private sector examples:
- How can we go about consolidating and replacing our IT legacy systems in order to drive productivity & efficiency throughout the organization?
- Who should we partner with to enhance our market penetration in X region?
- What can be done to boost innovation in our manufacturing processes?
- How do we develop reliable global supply capability for our current asset plan that provides world-class customer/market responsiveness?
- What initiatives can we undertake to overcome regulatory barriers to global growth?What vision and strategies should guide our social responsibility programs in our rapidly growing markets?
- How can we maximize the benefits from the current strategic shift to expand the role of global drive brands into the existing brand portfolio to ensure the long term profitability of the business and the full engagement of its employees and stakeholders?
- How do we identify and accelerate outsourcing opportunities to improve efficiency while reducing expenses. How do we best manage this transition from a business and cultural perspective?
Public sector examples:
- What is needed to support the creation of a Leadership Institute that will aim to significantly strengthen the quality of leadership, leadership development efforts, and enhance our position as an employer of choice?
- How can we best address the commitments and leadership challenges related to the upcoming five-year Parliamentary review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act?
- How can we best achieve coherence in our dealings with industry sectors important to the delivery of our environmental protection mandate?
- How do we best integrate our NCR federal science laboratory assets and capabilities in food safety to best anticipate and respond to emerging issues?