The action learning facilitator journey

The role of an action learning facilitator is a rewarding one, and one that develops over the life of each set and over the duration of your career. The demands on the facilitator are multi-faceted and challenging, yet it is these challenges that also make the role so fulfilling.

Let’s take a look at some of the key skills that make your role so pivotal in the action learning process:

Firstly, you need to be able to negotiate a contract for group working, unpicking what confidentiality means for the context of each set. Then you must ensure sets stay focused and on task throughout the duration of each meeting. You need to have the confidence to challenge behaviour appropriately if set members do not keep to the contract and of course apply your action learning skills and knowledge to successfully facilitate the group.

Central to the success of the process is your ability to enable the set to review both its process as a set and improve its effectiveness as a learning experience whilst continually supporting the development of reflective learning practise

Set members need to feel comfortable when bidding for space in the set and will do so if you can demonstrate awareness of the differing degrees of difficulty with which participants feel able to claim the set’s time. By your quality and presence, you’ll stay with the presenter and “hold” them sensitively while they work at the very boundaries of their self-knowledge. You’ll also need to model respect for the presenter while having the confidence and sensitivity to be able to challenge what is being said, and know when intervention is and is not required.

As a facilitator you may have experienced different challenges – some of these arising both from sets themselves and others as result of your own development journey as a facilitator.

You may have noticed that many sets find staying with silence a difficult thing to do. Rather than sit with the often unusual and therefore uncomfortable experience of letting someone think deeply, there can be a rush to fill the space and move on with questions whose real purpose is to help the questioner ‘progress’. Navigating how this unfolds in each set is always different.

People often talk of responding to the unexpected and unanticipated material which can arise for set members. This can have a significant impact on the set members so holding the space becomes even more important. While these might be considered to be risky times in a set they are often the most powerful as they can be really transformative. It’s important therefore to remain highly mindful of the role of the presenter within the group in such circumstances, to keep the process on track, yet allow for these unexpected turns.

Action learning is a group learning process and this will often involve an element of risk or exposure. While the silence and trusting environment you create and nurture support this, you must remain fully present, with full attention focused on what is happening in the room.

From the outside an action learning set can seem like a simple meeting in a circle, perhaps even just an opportunity for a chat. From the inside it is a really rich, varied and dynamic learning space in which problems are shared, and solutions are discovered. It is entirely organic and in that sense emergent and unpredictable.

The next CPD step

It can be a challenge to develop your skills further when working in the field without interaction with other action learning facilitators. We have continued interaction with our trained facilitators as a matter of course and this has helped us shape and develop further learning programmes to bring additional benefits to the role of a facilitator. Our CPD programmes have therefore been designed to help broaden and deepen your action learning facilitator role.

Further applications of action learning

A classic challenge for experienced facilitators is to broaden your applications of action learning, reaching beyond the first, perhaps most obvious uses and looking at delivering different objectives. We have developed a one day masterclass programme which explores the rich uses of action learning for individual and organisation development as well as sector and networking development applications. We look at constructing action learning programmes for more challenging situations including project and team approaches. You leave with a range of practical ways to extend your facilitation practice and to bring further benefits your clients or organisations.

Evaluating action learning

In an ever demanding commercial world, it’s crucial to be able to demonstrate the real value in the learning. Anecdotal reports as well as set feedback can be inspiring in terms of the wholehearted endorsements provided – but moving on to collect evidence of its effectiveness – well, therein lies the challenge!

Evaluation of action learning is the subject of both a white paper and a new masterclass led by Mandy Hetherton and John Heywood. You’ve no doubt experienced the emergent nature of the learning in action learning, where people start with differing objectives and are often surprised at what the unanticipated learning provides. Capturing the richness of these outcomes with rigour is the real problem. Our masterclass will look at the best range of methodologies available for evaluating action learning and leave you with the ability to demonstrate the added value that your action learning programmes bring, in more tangible terms.

Using mindfulness to excel in facilitation

Our original masterclass for experienced facilitators, whether experienced in action learning as well as classic facilitation – looks at how to use mindfulness in facilitation. Techniques to “hold the space” in sets and facilitation situations and use of reflection tools to assess what is happening, create greater awareness of the process as it unfolds. It can add a real depth to your facilitation experience. Looking at how to incorporate mindfulness into your facilitation supports your development as a facilitator and provides a new stream of personal learning for your own CPD.

Like most professions, learning new skills in action learning is a continuous process. Here at Action Learning Associates we’re here to help you further those skills, to enrich your experience as a facilitator and to enable you to continue to enjoy a highly rewarding role.

We have a series of course dates for each of the above CPD programmes, and can conduct them in-house for a group of experienced action learning facilitators within your organisation, or you can take part in an open programme.


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