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’?

Here are the views of the workshop participants in response to this framing: In Model one, project leaders of separate projects meet in an action learning set, run along classic action learning principles, bringing issues from their own projects.

Strengths:Model 1

  • contains anxiety
  • adaptable within action learning framework
  • encourages diversity of perspective
  • potentially interesting, greater engagement, stretch, learning and networking

Questions about the application of action learning

  • how do we demonstrate impact to sponsors?
  • how do we enable contextual understanding?
  • how do we manage potential competition?

In Model Two, we apply action learning to teams working on complex, collaborative change projects.  Here, the teams work collaboratively on a large project (often leading different workstreams).  There is then a ring-fenced action learning set time in which individuals can bring issues, usually related to their leadership and normal roles; learning and action is applied to the group project as well as to individual actions.

Strengths:Model 2

  • brings alive connections between individuals and the wider organisation/culture
  • brings the culture of action learning into projects
  • makes overt connections between projects
  • makes the wider system more visible/clear
  • provides containment and safety

Questions about application of action learning

  • Can the facilitator of the collaborative project work be the same as for the action learning session? Are the skills the same?
  • How critical are the line management relationships in this model?

We finished by comparing the role of the facilitator in each model:

Table 2

At the end of the session participants expressed greater confidence in building action learning into large complex change projects, with a leaning towards the cleaner process of model one.

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