Action learning and transferable skills

Many of us with action learning experience know that the key skills of action learning……careful listening, open questions, reflections rather than advice… transfer to leaders, managers and supervisors readily when fulfilling their day jobs.

We know because these have been our own experiences when in such roles, and because we’ve witnessed others in sets reveal how they have used those skills, often with surprise, sometimes with gratitude.

Not everyone, of course… effective question in any action learning set is often along the lines of: what would your open question to your colleague/boss/trustee be if she walked in right now?

That question is either a great ‘unlocker’ or is met by bafflement: my guess is that those who recognise the unlocking power of open questions will have been using them outside the set; those who don’t still think that action learning is a slightly arcane practise only undertaken when they meet with their set.

Transferring action learning skills in the workplace

All of this may sound pretty abstract, so I asked the author of a recently completed reflective learning log (the record of her development as an action learning facilitator, submitted to achieve ILM accreditation) if I could quote her elegant summary of where and how she had used her learning on the programme to put some particular flesh on the abstractions of transferable skills. Here it is:

“With this foundation of training I am excited about the opportunities it offers me. I have already seen how this work has affected my day to day role.  I have been line managing a number of people who have found themselves stuck in a rut and have developed quite challenging behaviour as a result.”

“With a more confident approach of asking open questions, I have been able to put my staff effectively in the presenter role, asking them to outline issues and then allowing them to explore those issues through a series of open questions”.

“This process has empowered team members to find ways through challenges themselves, but has also changed the dynamic in 1 to 1 meetings where previously team members were in the habit of expecting answers and solutions”.

“I have also been able to use the strategies central to the action learning set process during team meetings.  Once again these have become fraught with bad habits, they had become stagnant experiences dominated by management whilst staff had become comfortable in a passive role”.

“Utilising open questions and in particular challenging with ‘why’ and ‘what’ questions makes it clear that the space is to be interactive and will only be effective if everyone takes part.  It was challenging sitting with the silence on occasions, but it allowed for people to reflect and recognise that the space wasn’t going to be filled if they didn’t fill it”.

We often talk about action learning facilitator skills being skills that are used for life and the evidence here is another example of its continuous value. It’s always gratifying to hear accounts of others’ experiences of using action learning to resolve real work issues.

If you have examples of how action learning has helped in your particular role, please share with us. We would be delighted to hear from you.

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