One of the major benefits of action learning is that an action learning set is able to continue without a facilitator once members have mastered the action learning process. Many sets we work with – whether in-house or as part of a peer network programme – continue in this way. Self facilitation allows them to build longer term peer development networks of real benefit to themselves and at low cost.
Interestingly Reg Revans had no place for facilitators and wrote always of the power of the set working together.
The Primacy of the Set…..small and stable set of comrades in adversity, regularly disciplining themselves in their observations and their analyses, more realistically appraising and more sensitively applying the limitless stores of their own lived experience”
For a self facilitated set to be successful the members need to renew their contract to work together for a certain amount of time, for example another five meetings. Discussion and agreement of a contract helps hold the set to effective working and provides a good basis for understanding what every member hopes to achieve from their set membership. Even if some members decide not to continue in the set, we have known many sets successfully recruit new members, agree how to work together and continue to provide real sources of peer support and development in the workplace.
Surprisingly the greatest challenge sets seem to face in making the transition to self-facilitation is one of logistics. Someone in the set needs to confirm the next meeting date, arrange a venue and send a reminder. This important “hosting” role is the kind of practical activity which can be pushed aside under the pressure of busy work life.
The other barrier to self-facilitation is to do with prioritisation. Without an external facilitator some organisations appear not to recognise the value of the time spent in an action learning set. It is as though an external facilitator gives the process authority for the organisation. For set members it is also easier to be more casual and prioritise current work pressures than their attendance at the set meetings.
Prioritising the value of peer learning and allowing time to organise and take part in a self-facilitated set is key – as one action learning set member recently said of their membership of a facilitated set which went on to self-facilitate:
I used to think I was too busy for Action Learning, now I realise I am too busy not to [do it].”