‘Comrades in adversity’ – Action learning for charity chief executives

Commissioned by Lloyds Bank Foundation, ALA are delivering a pilot programme for chief executives of small charities in the North of England. Two action learning sets have been established, who meet five times with the support of an ALA facilitator. Participants then take part in our action learning facilitator training course, to give them the skills and confidence to continue as self-facilitated sets.

A community of sustainable support for chief executives

The chief executive role can be an isolated one, positioned between staff and board, with no natural place for peer support. Yet many charity chief executives face similar challenges of reduced income with increasing demand for services and an urgent need to innovate. They are indeed ‘comrades in adversity’ as Reg Revans, the founder of action learning, memorably described action learning set members. The intention of the Lloyds programme is to build sustainable communities of support and challenge for charity chief executives, helping them and their organisations develop into the future.

I recently ran the facilitator training course for the first cohort on the programme. Six chief executives came together for an intensive three days to learn the skills of facilitation. It was a powerful experience which helped participants get ‘under the bonnet’ of how action learning works by stepping into the facilitator’s role.

In the reflection sessions which are an intrinsic part of the course, we had time to explore why silence, open questions, and feedback are such powerful tools for learning. The learning covered both individual and organisational levels as we explored how action learning might be used across the different charities for organisation development. By the end of the course, the participants had agreed to meet for their first self-facilitated set meeting and were excited about continuing to work together independently. Comments on the evaluation forms included:

“I have expanded my network of support in a very meaningful way.”

“Do it [the course] – the learning is invaluable, motivating and energising.”

“Transformational – personally & professionally.”

It was a pleasure to work with such a committed group of leaders, and to help them create a sustainable source of support and challenge into the future.


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