Action Learning

Connection, Collaboration and Curiosity: Action Learning


Action Learning at a University Student Union

Action Learning is an impactful way of solving urgent and important problems, creatively and collaboratively. It expands the minds and skills of the participants, as it requires the participants to reflect on their own personal contribution, give feedback to others and build leadership skills. 

The CEO of the Student Union presented a problem to his team of 12. The problem was that the union needed to bring in more income from different revenue streams, but how? The CEO asked his team to consider what these streams could be.

After 2 hours of intense discussion, the group provided the CEO with 8 options – all of which were actionable, and the team would be involved in making this happen. As a post session debrief, the CEO reported that the solutions presented to him was of a really high quality, and only 2 of them he had thought of himself. The Student Union has since gone onto put plans in place to creatively and significantly increase the income of the Student Union.

Feedback included:

“Good way to solve problems”, “I enjoyed working together as a team to solve a problem that is close to us all”, “When can we do that again?”, “Impactful, good use of time, and I enjoyed the process”, “Sophie kept us on track and helped us come to a good conclusion on our own”.

Action Learning at London Training Provider

The Chief Happiness Officer of a London based Leadership Development and IT Training company asked his senior management team to help him solve and urgent and important problem – whether the business should offer an additional service to its clients, as had been recommended by an external accreditation body.

The team had a great opportunity to build and reflect on their leadership skills, as well as put their questioning and listening skills to effective use. At the end of the session, the Chief Happiness Officer reported that the solutions were very good ideas, not all would have immediately come to mind for him, and that he would take the solutions to be discussed with other members of the team.

 As part of the feedback from the session, the participants reported this process as “enjoyable”, “different and a great way to engage creative thinking”, and “a good way to get others bought into solving high level problems”. The company have since gone on to pursue the solutions that were presented.

Action Learning at CIPD Self Managed Learning Group

The Chair of the CIPD Self Managed Learning (SML) group asked the Ordinarily Different Ltd to come along and assist the group in collective problem solving. One of the SML group presented a problem in relation to change of career path. Through the 2 hour session, the group reflected on their leadership skills, and had a great discussion about the skills they would like to work on over the course of the Action Learning session.

At the end of the session the group reported that they had learned a great deal about the power of deep questioning in order to better understand the problem – the problem that was being presented was not the real problem, and they reported that this was the real power in Action Learning. The SML colleague who had their problem solved by the group reported that she wouldn’t have come up the same solutions had she not have attended the group. She has subsequently made the changes that the group helped her find.

Feedback from the group included: “I’ve never seen this done before, but I enjoyed the process and would definitely use this again in my job”, “I’m really pleased we work together as a team to help (X) get to a good solution for her problem, it brought the group together, and built relationships as well as work on our leadership skills”, “It was interesting reflecting on our learning and leadership skills- will try to do this more”, “Questioning was quite difficult, just proves we don’t do it enough”

Action Learning at a Global Technology Company

For this project, Ordinarily Different Ltd, collaborated with LiveLearn to coach Action Learning Sets, as part of the launch of the technology company’s Leadership Development Programme. Due to the size of the leadership group, it was arranged so that several action learning sets could be going on at anyone time. 

Before the session started the leaders in the group were asked who had a real, urgent and important problem that needed solving. Several leaders were chosen by the group, and they were then split  to work on their respective problems. The main issues were staffing issues. One in particular was in relation to under performance, and another, a persistent sickness issue. The groups identified the leadership skills they would like to develop through the session, and asked deep questions to ascertain the real problem, and the formulation of the solutions. 

At the end of the session, the leaders reported that they had not only had a greater development of their leadership skills, and a focus on reflecting on their performance with in the group, but their biggest lesson was in the power of questioning  and how that leads to innovative solutions to problems, and collaborating with colleagues.

The leaders also reported that they had built relationships through the group and now are able to call upon their colleagues for advice and guidance on issues that they are likely to encounter over the course of the leadership programmes and within their jobs.

Feedback included: “Very engaging, and a good opportunity to work together  with like minded people facing similar challenges”, “Sophie was very informative and engaging”, “a great way to share our experience and knowledge, through questioning and answering”, “Sophie really helped me develop my own coaching skills”, “From this session I now the realise the importance of not going straight to the instant answer, thinking in more detail about whether the problem presented is the real problem to be solved, and not to rush feedback or approach”, “This just shows how we question and listen, such an invaluable experience”.