Action Learning – it’s all about the outcomes

We have recently come to the end of an extended programme working with the Greater London Authority (Office of the Mayor of London and the London Assembly). They have delivered a development initiative called Into Leadership aimed at supporting senior managers to develop in their existing roles and to prepare them for transition to the next level.

Action learning formed a key element of this programme, to help embed the learning and create long term, lasting changes in leadership behaviours. We were pleased to be involved from the start of this initiative, co-designing the entire programme so that the action learning element integrated effectively and was closely aligned with its objectives.

The Development Programme

The programme consisted of 6 day long workshops over 9 months on subjects such as leadership and management, emotional intelligence, change and adaptability, motivation, engagement and high performance. We included a coaching element which focused on 360 degree feedback and analysis of the feedback participants received. In addition we conducted 6 half day action learning sessions held between the taught modules.

Action Learning Sets

The cohort was divided into two action learning sets of six people each. They met off site with our facilitatorto explore the learning from the wider programme and discuss issues that had arisen for them in the workplace.

Outcomes

The set members were asked to evaluate the action learning element of the programme, to assess whether they felt they had achieved their objectives, and to acknowledge what value they gained from the experience.

Feedback was very positive overall, with many comments which aspects of action learning resonated with the participants on a personal level, some of which were:

  • This was the best bit of the course and the bit that I really hadn’t expected to get anything from!
  • A greater understanding of the power of open questions/discussion – rather than simply grasping for a ready-made answer
  • Realising a lot of the group were going through similar challenges so we can support each other
  • I’ve realised the value of reflecting more on issues that affect me, my work and the wider team
  • Listening properly!
  • I don’t have to have the solution to someone else’s “problem”
  • I’ve greatly valued the opportunity to get new perspectives on issues and challenges
  • A new way of thinking through problems/issues as a way of solving them/reframing them
  • Good practice on management and leadership
  • AL has provided a safe, calm environment for self-reflection and reflecting on the issues of peers
  • Encourage others to reflect then think about options jointly rather than dive in and solve myself

We also asked participants what worked well for them in the sets, and here is a selection of their answers:

  • Good to be off-site with protected time for the whole afternoon
  • Realising that many people struggle with the issues I struggle with
  • Good subjects brought to the table
  • Honesty and openness – able to open up in a way you often can’t at work for fear of being judged/showing weakness
  • Helps give wider understanding of challenges and issues facing other people and teams
  • People ‘investing’ in the learning
  • Structured process guided by the facilitator allow us to be more focused

Conclusion

The feedback gives an honest and open insight into the different aspects of the learning resonated with the participants and gave a sense of how they will adapt their leadership behaviours going forward. It’s always gratifying to hear participants describe in their own words the value they have got from their action learning programme, knowing that this will influence their performance and make a positive impact on the organisation as a whole.

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