What is Action Learning?
Action learning, in the simplest definition, is a process for developing creative solutions in tackling complex problems of individuals, groups of people, and corporations. It involves taking steps to solve a problem and then evaluating the effectiveness of those steps – in other words, looking to LEARN from the ACTIONS you take in attempting to solve a problem. You can then, hopefully, formulate a new, more effective solution to the problem and put that solution into action.
Action learning is an effective approach to development at all levels, such as individual or organizational. It is considered particularly well-suited for team approaches to problem-solving and helps in team building within an organization.
Organizations that both value the development of their employees and take care to facilitate action learning, receive the benefits of a more talented and empowered workforce. Many such successful organizations use action learning to achieve workforce development.
The originator of action learning, Professor Reginald Revans, found that setting a small group of people to share their experiences and problems to find a solution was an effective method of learning and problem-solving. He used his method of action learning as a support system for management development to revive several dying organizations during his time.
How Does Action Learning Work?
The primary focus of action learning is developing individuals by giving them a chance to speak openly about the challenges they encounter at their level. The best way to go about the process is setting up a group of about six to eight people who are like-minded and give them time to meet and hold discussions. The term used for the group is a “set.”
When the set meets, the first thing they are likely to do is elect one of their own to be a leader, or also known as a facilitator. The roles of the set facilitator are as follows:
- Mobilize set members for meetings
- Prepare for the meeting
- Looked up to by the set as an advisor
- Structure the given time to maximize it
- Control the set to focus on the questions to make the best use of their time
- Control the set by providing a chance for everyone to air their views
- Follow-up on the findings
- Encourage the set to be out-of-box thinkers when aiming to tackle the problem at hand
- “Midwifery” – Initiating the birth of new ideas from his set members and passing them on to the organization managerial team
- Serve as an intermediary between the management of the organization and the set members
At first, Prof. Revans was against naming a facilitator for the set. He was worried that the set might rely entirely on the facilitator and become docile. He later changed this assumption and accepted the idea of naming a facilitator in the set to manage the basic processes. What made him change his mind was realizing that a set without a facilitator emphasizes too much on actions, with less learning, which was not the intended outcome of action learning.
Including the facilitator, the set also assumes other roles. Even though the facilitator is assigned his duties, he must also get involved in the discussions like any other set member. The roles of the set are as follows:
- Keep time for the meeting
- Contribute to the meeting by speaking out on the problems they encounter
- Contributing to solutions to the problems
- Taking action and implementing the solutions at their workplace
Once the meeting is over, the set members are expected to implement all that was discussed as a solution to the current problems. Some solutions may involve bringing other teammates who were not a part of the set group. This may require sensitivity when handling and explaining the solution to the non-set member, but will also lead to an overall stronger team.
Members of the set team will need to report back to the set at the next meeting on what changes were encountered while implementing the solution. Members are expected to exchange ideas on the findings and help each other in formulating subsequent solutions to implementations that failed or that did not yield positive results.
When reporting back to the next meeting with the results of action taken from the previous learning to the other set team members, it is imperative to be concise with the information. Following this order can help with conveying all the information needed:
- What did you do? – The speaker will narrate to the other set members how they went about implementing the solution.
- What happened? – The speaker will state the reaction of their colleagues when they brought their colleagues into the picture of how they wanted to change the approach to doing some of the duties.
- Was it any different from expectations? – State expectations and whether the results were negative or positive according to those expectations.
- Was the set member able to implement all solutions from the previous meeting? If not, what, and how that implementation could have been handled better.
- Define the lesson learned from the action.
From the report, the facilitator can now propel the meeting to discuss the issues. The process puts the set members into another iteration of the action learning procedure. However, action learning is now meant to address new questions or problems. The facilitator may need to put the following questions to the set members to form a basis for handling the question or problem at hand.
- What is the issue at hand?
- What action should be taken after learning the issues?
- What action points should they identify in order to solve the issue?
As seen above, the action learning process is a cyclical one. Each iteration of the action learning procedure is meant to gradually improve the business process and fix problems, similarly to how the agile methodology works in software development.
Action learning has become quite popular in managing high profile organizations, groups, and individuals. Apart from solving complex challenges in these organizations, action learning has become an icebreaker of tension that used to loom between executive management and the staff. This method has played a major role in bridging the existing gap between these two groups of staff members by bringing them together in working as one team.
The action learning process is meant to initiate dialogue in seeking a solution. The process is expected to form cohesiveness, which will be a building block for the success of an organization.
CFI is a global provider of corporate development courses and career advancement for finance professionals. To learn more and expand your career, explore the additional relevant CFI resources below.