Learning With and From Each Other: Action Learning lessons from around the world

Global Forum June 2019

In June 2019, Ruth Cook and I attended the 24th Global Forum on Business Driven Action Learning in Paris. We presented the proposition, ‘The Future of Action Learning is Virtual’ arguing that working virtually offers a deeply reflective learning space whilst reducing travel time, travel costs and, critically, carbon emissions.

The Forum is a non-profit “community of practice” founded in 1996. The motivation for creating the Forum arose from the desire to share, and to learn from, common dilemmas associated with business driven action learning executive programs. The Forum’s objectives include gathering together peers from all sectors of society in order to share experiences and learning. Since the Forum’s inception, groups of peers have met in 24 different venues around the world, from Stockholm to Johannesburg and Rio to Yokohama.

This year’s Global Forum on strategic transformation, leadership and learning brought together over seventy people to discuss a wide range of innovative ideas and initiatives that are transforming our world for the better.

The atmosphere created by the Forum’s organising team was positive, uplifting, collegial, encouraging and challenging, and the organisers serenely delivered a master class in large group facilitation.

Those gathered included influential global business leaders, academics, government representatives, social innovators, entrepreneurs, transformational consultants, a published poet and several accomplished writers.

Day 1

This was the big picture day, setting the scene and making preparations for the more detailed case studies to come. We had a whirlwind around-the-world tour, hearing from representatives from each continent. We learnt about “transformational trends and issues affecting the world”, both societal and industrial. With the context provided, we could then move ahead to look at the theme of the Forum, namely strategic transformation, leadership and learning.

Day 2

We discussed global trends and issues and shared lessons learned from leaders and companies about organizational transformations, change initiatives, and leadership development.

Day 3

The final day was focused “…on the present state and future of learning both in the business community and elsewhere.” There was also a “Wisdom Panel” in which invited participants shared their formative life experiences, what they learned and continue to learn. The 2019 Global Forum concluded, Action Learning-style, with a discussion about what we had all learned and what inspired us.

Looking back over the 3 days, I feel privileged to have been part of this extraordinary gathering of inspirational people. The positive atmosphere has been a much-needed antidote to the prevailing negativity of national and international news. Many discussions, stories and presentations stand out, but if I had to pick out just a few uplifting highlights these would be my choices:

Vattenfall is a leading European energy company. Its story stands out because of the ambition and scale of the changes it has made and continues to make. Its vision is to be fossil free within one generation. Vattenfall is driving change and innovation and has committed to a fundamental shift in values and beliefs to support the vision. This is the shining example needed if we are to confront our climate crisis with conviction.

A different story, but one that shows a similar pioneering vision, comes from the pharma company Eli Lilly. The company’s “Germany Hub”, which includes Germany, Austria and Switzerland, has undergone a “profound cultural transformation” in recent years. Their vision is to be a very “human, sustainable organization”, emphasising the health of society.

“People are creating self-organized teams, based on their topics of interest – anyone can join voluntarily. Employee engagement is outstanding, also generating very strong business results.” The presenter introduced the idea of “The Common Good Balance Sheet,” which measures success by new standards: increasing the common good becomes the main goal, not merely financial gain. You can find out more about that here.

Searching questions

As well as the two heartening stories above, we heard about businesses asking themselves not “how much can I make?” but rather “how much is enough?” We heard about the major factors affecting businesses and communities, including the climate crisis, migration and technological developments. We also heard about companies like Danone, which supports water and nutrition initiatives for some of the world’s poorest communities. Last, and in no way least, the businessman-poet performed a wonderful and dramatic poem.

As I left Paris to travel home by train, I felt a strong sense of connection to this Global Forum community with which I spent 3 enriching days. In a chaotic and perplexing world, there’s a sense of hope in finding a community that is doing the right thing… and doing things right.

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