Occasionally, we find it appropriate to move away from the classic action learning set approach to use the principles of action learning in a slightly different way. Whilst working for a client in Denmark, it was evident that the participants, who were all working on the same strategic project, shared the same issue. The work therefore was with the group as a whole, rather than the individual approach of a classic action learning set.
How the action learning set evolved
The set started as usual with an action learning bidding round, where participants were invited to present their issue; however, rather unusually, 4 or 5 of the training cohort presented the same issue. They were all working on a strategic OD project, albeit with different roles and perspectives. It became apparent that there were differences in functions being worked, desired outcomes and even the regions they came from. It was clear that better communication was needed if they were to work more collaboratively on attaining the objectives of the project in which they were all involved.
We decided to use the demanding approach of a set held issue for this project. This methodology requires all of the classic action learning practises to be upheld, perhaps with even more rigour. Active listening, offering thoughtful open questions, holding back on advice all moved the set and the project on.
Allow more time
Perhaps understandably, the set took longer than usual; it was more tiring yet exceptionally rich in terms of both learning and the individual and shared action plans that were agreed. Each person had the opportunity to present their view of the project and was listened to. This allowed for deeper understanding and appreciation of others’ roles, strengths and contribution to delivery of the project as a whole. Even at this stage the learning was evident.
In normal day to day life, many project teams work so fast and under pressure with rewards for delivering on their objectives, that they sometimes do so at the expense of the rest of the project team. The action learning set allowed time to reflect on team dynamics rather than individual output.
Questions had a fluid and rigorous approach and people took away individual actions for their part of the project. Significantly in terms of team building and organisational change, we also developed a team action plan with combined and shared actions with people working together in a way they had not been before.
Fast track learning
The benefits included improved collaboration, a stronger team ‘bond’, appreciation of one another and new ideas for problem solving. Whilst the set took longer than usual, was hard work and at times intense, it was extremely rewarding, valued by all and very productive.
Using action learning in this way is a powerful way to get project teams motivated, learning together and to fast track learning in teams across a project.