Action Learning with the ‘unusual suspects’: taking our experience to conference

With thanks to Julie Luscombe of Jersey Hospice Care for contributing this article and sharing her experience of action learning in the workplace and the benefits it has brought to her administration team.

Nine months into facilitating two cohorts of action learning sets within our organisation, I’ve been able to share the experience by presenting a poster at the International Networking for Healthcare Education Conference at the University of Keele.

The title of the poster was: Involving the ‘unusual suspects’: action learning as an approach to encourage a learning culture among non clinical staff within a Hospice setting.

The conference team use a ‘speed dating’ approach to poster presentations so our work didn’t just sit there waiting for someone to come over and have a look. The poster presentations are an active part of the conference agenda with a facilitator to time the presentations and questions. It’s like a busy marketplace of information which gave me lots of opportunity to talk about the value of action learning.

I focused the poster on our work with the administration staff who form part of the complex and diverse infrastructure needed to support the delivery of excellent care in health care settings. They are essential members of the team but their work is often hidden in the background.

After a training needs analysis, we had arranged for administration staff across a variety of teams to attend a workshop on work prioritisation.

Valuing one another

Although they found the content helpful, their feedback showed that what they valued more was the opportunity to learn alongside each other and support each other in their roles. They realised that although they worked for different teams, they faced similar work related challenges and could support each other more.

Listening to this feedback led me to set up an action learning set for them to both consolidate the formal learning they had just experienced but also to continue to learn alongside and support each other. We began tentatively, building up trust and I supported them to get used to asking insightful questions rather than giving advice or offering solutions.

Real world problem solving

Everyone is busy so the focus needed to be on action around real world problems that impacted on them. After six months, we agreed to review and using the suggestions by Action Learning Associates, we did an interactive activity using the following questions:

1. What have you gained from being part of this action learning set?
2. How effective has the group been in helping each other to act and learn?
3. What challenges (if any) have you experienced in being part of this learning set?
4. What new insights do you have about yourself?
5. If you recommended action learning to anyone, what would you say?

It was the answer to this last question that they were happy to share more widely. Their feedback demonstrates the value of action learning as they identified it:

• Strengthens connections
• Increases understanding of roles across the organisation
• Leads to shared learning & shared skills
• Allows you to learn from alternative perspectives
• Builds on personal strengths
• Offers a safe environment for proactive problem solving

This feedback together with a ‘consequences’ type activity where they all wrote an appreciative comment for their fellow set members meant we were ready to go for another 6 months. Next year, we might be braver and go for a workshop presentation and spread the word even further!

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