The challenges and rewards of working internationally

In preparing for working on a new action learning facilitator training programme there’s always a stock set of things to do; research the organisation, review the materials, think through the various key elements of the work and make plenty of notes.

We recently worked with an international gaming company with participants taking part in a number of locations and time zones. As always we were focused on what we feel are the most important aspects of working in the Action Learning Space: finding a way to be present, open and able to work with whatever challenges and subjects emerge to achieve the greatest benefit for the participants.

As sometimes happens, circumstances, technology and events meant that we did not have the ‘perfect’ set up for our work over the course of the programme. Whilst this brings potential for anxiety into my practice, we have gained some measure of experience over time and learned that it’s best simply to remain present and stay true to the process.

Imperfect needn’t be bad

A recent and in depth programme of delivery in the NHS also highlighted how good, meaningful and powerful work can be done in highly ‘imperfect’ action learning spaces. Whether it’s due to lack of numbers, technical issues or poor continuity of participants taking part in each set due to work commitments, the results are always illuminating and helpful for those we’ve worked with. Simply asking ‘what can be learnt from what we are experiencing’ can lead to learning about the system from what is actually being played out in the set at the time.

So in working with an international organisation (that operates in a different continent), all the challenges of simultaneously delivering a programme in different countries offered additional insight and learning for participants. Action learning is flexible by its nature, and allows participants to explore ways of learning and developing that are most effective for their specific context. Key questions around bringing action learning into the system can be explored by reflecting on the content of the programme as it unfolds.

Training in action learning facilitation

Learning to deliver leadership interventions such as action learning is in fact an act of leadership in itself. Participants can explore, learn and develop in a trusting environment. The process allows for the uncertainty of the facilitator. With support and through asking open questions and allowing time for reflection they develop new leadership skills. Newly trained action learning facilitators also become more accomplished leaders themselves and to hear recently that “action learning is in action” is a great testament to the work we did together.

By the end of the programme, we had trained 5 people in action learning facilitation, with practical skills they could use to “help groups help each other and build a peer-coaching environment”.

The dynamics of working internationally are certainly different to working in a face to face group. Having said that, the learning was a rich experience for all who took part. By staying true to the action learning process, the training sessions progressed well. What was different was the real work challenges presented by the participants. There was clearly a lot to be gained from bringing dispersed personnel together in this way, and we’re pleased that the results were positive and promise to be long lasting.

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