As a theatre professional in London, I struggle to find time to reflect on my work. The pace of life both in and out of the office demands constant progress: doing rather than reflecting. Our emails, project work, meetings and phone calls keep us on our toes and don’t always leave space for much else. That’s why being part of an Action Learning set, established by A New Direction as part of the Cultural Education Progression Network, is such a treat.
In practice, Action Learning makes time and space for considered reflection on our workplace challenges. Once every six weeks, I meet up with industry peers and a facilitator in an airy flat in Bermondsey, to do just that. It’s a day that is kept apart from the ordinary working week: there are no interruptions and we leave at the door whatever pressures are troubling us at the office. I applied to be part of it because I wanted to meet new people from across the sector, and forge new connections and partnerships. I work in Creative Learning at the Ambassador Theatre Group, and bring a commercial perspective to our conversations – and I value learning about my peers’ experiences in subsidised organisations. But I have discovered a far greater benefit from Action Learning than I expected, particularly relating to my own personal development.
Professional gains, personal gains
The professional gains are clear – I can share a dilemma or a question, in confidence, with objective and supportive peers, and they will help me to explore it and reach new conclusions and resolves for action. I gain clarity and purpose, and return to my workplace with renewed vigour and a fresh approach. And I think the personal gains are even greater, not least because we are encouraged to share challenges relating to our career trajectory and personal progress, and benefit from the collective wisdom in the room.
However, it’s the sense of discipline and focus that has been most enlightening for me. Action Learning is about questioning: peers ask questions of the ‘presenter’, in a disciplined order of questioning ‘rounds’, encouraging the presenter to approach the problem from a new angle and ultimately forge new neural pathways. It demands a level of focus and concentration which I rarely reach in a busy office environment, and a unique attention to language. The development of my listening and questioning skills has been hugely valuable so far, and our common goal to offer ‘high support and high challenge’ to each presenter is one I’d like to maintain in my interaction with colleagues – it’s such a positive way to approach a professional relationship.
Skills application at the Ambassador Theatre Group
At ATG one of my primary responsibilities is to manage our career development programmes for those new to the theatre industry: internships, apprenticeships and a graduate scheme. ATG has a range of programmes and an impressive track record of retention – since 2012, 82% of our interns went on to employment within ATG after their internship, and the others found employment elsewhere in the industry. A key part of my role is to offer advice and mentorship, and I know that my experience with Action Learning will improve my approach in this area. Learning how to ask the questions that they need to find the answer to, and practising offering observations rather than directives loaded with prior experience – these skills are directly applicable to my work with our trainees.
Action Learning with AND’s Cultural Education Progression Network has brought a cross-sector perspective to my work, highlighting parallels with my peers regardless of our differing organisations and professional environments. A New Direction has been a catalyst of connections: between the subsidised sector and the commercial; between arts and culture professionals who previously had never crossed paths; between the skills practice during the sessions and in the workplace; and between that calm, airy space and the busy office.
Zoe Briggs is part of the Cultural Education Progression Network set up by London based youth and culture organisation A New Direction. Her blog was published on AND’s website on 15 May. She is the Learning Partnership Manager at the Ambassador Theatre Group. Action Learning Associates has facilitated a number of action learning sets for the AND network – for further details see our case study.