Action Learning

by Steve Roche

In a nutshell

1. What is Action Learning?

Action Learning is a method of problem solving and learning in groups to bring about change for individuals and their organisation.

  • Who uses it? Managers and professionals who want to develop their skills and their careers.
  • Why does it work? It gives them time to think, away from the everyday pressure of work.
  • How does it work? Regular meetings follow steps in a structured and facilitated process.


2. Will Action Learning work for your managers?

  • Is your organisation ready to encourage healthy questioning?
  • Will you get the right level of senior support?
  • Has the time come to foster a culture of enquiry and questioning?


3. Starting an Action Learning Set

  • When starting a set, you need to consider its purpose, its style and its stakeholders.
  • Ensure you create a set of ground rules


4. An Action Learning Set meeting

A typical meeting is run by a skilled facilitator, with around half a dozen set members who bid for time in the session. Members are expected to commit to attend every meeting, to stay for the whole of the time, and to actively contribute to other people’s work. Each meeting is carefully structured with a series of process steps.


5. Facilitating an Action Learning Set

It’s essential that an individual with strong facilitation skills takes responsibility for this function. It is very hard for people to focus on someone’s story or feelings if they are also trying to follow process steps and watch the timing.

The facilitator is selected to do the job because they have specialised skills in running groups, dealing with people and handling conflict. Ideally they are trained specifically to run an Action Learning Set and are thoroughly familiar with the process.


6. Skills involved in Action Learning

  • Desirable skills include listening, questioning, rapport and language skills.
  • Desirable qualities include goodwill, coupled with openness to learning and experimenting.
  • The process encourages people to distance themselves from their problems and allows them to find their own solutions.


7. How to evaluate Action Learning

  • The work of a set can be evaluated at individual and organisational levels.
  • A sample review sheet is provided.


8. Personal experiences

  • Members of Action Learning Sets say what the experience has meant to them.