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By brighteningminds, Jul 22 2016 05:16PM

They tell you to think of a title that has a kick and makes people want to read it. I'm well aware this blog title might put some employers off action learning, but bear with me, read on and it (should) become clearer!


Have you ever had a challenge or an issue that you didn't know how to overcome? 'Just one?' I can hear you thinking.


Me too.


Take a moment to think about how you approached it. How stressful was it? Who helped you, if anyone? Perhaps you couldn't tell anyone.


I've had a number of challenges across the years, both professionally and personally. (and I am ever more surprised at how many years there have been, I still feel like I'm 16!) I've often been reluctant to talk about them because I didn't want advice. I wanted someone to listen, perhaps explore, but not to tell me what to do. I'm not saying there's not a place for advice by the way, just that it's not always what I need.


Well hello and welcome action learning!


I'm part of a social enterprise in one of my roles, and that has given me the opportunity to take part in an action learning set. Put together with a group of relative strangers who share a common goal of creating social change we have worked together, supported each other and learned or acknowledged things we never knew or 'noticed' about ourselves. These people now know more about some elements of my character than many people I hold close. And because of the trust we have created in our action learning set they hold that 'stuff' confidentially.


Right get on with it Clare, what is action learning?


Action learning involves working on real problems, focusing on learning and actually implementing solutions. It is a form of learning by doing. http://ifal.org.uk/action-learning


An action learning set very basically is a small group (ideally 5-7 people) who come together and bring a current live issue to work on. Each person takes a turn to be the 'issue holder', presenting their issue to the 'set members' and being supported to work through this issue by being asked open questions and given time to consider the answers. The issue holder then creates some actions or next steps to follow up with and report back on the next time the group meets.


‘I could do that with my friends or family over a coffee' some people say. Perhaps you could. Or perhaps your friends would be tempted to give advice. Perhaps they would hear and accept your perspective on the issue and not challenge you to think around it in any other way. Perhaps open questioning is something they have limited experience of. What would hold you to implementing any actions you come up with from talking to your friends?


And I don't know about you but my mum is my greatest critic and my greatest fan. She's wonderful...and she's full of advice. She tells me what to do about things I don't consider to be challenging so oh help me what will she say if I am struggling?


To be clear there are no judgments of your issue in action learning. Your fellow set members aren't there to advise you on how to solve or resolve your issue. That's for you to do.


Your fellow set member's role (and your role as a set member) is to ask open questions that allow you to explore your issue, giving you time and space and a safe place to consider where to go next. So back to my title, I gave up my job after an action learning set! Nobody told me to and I don't advocate anyone else doing it, but the questioning around my issue helped me to realise that I had a decision to make; that I was struggling to grow my business, and the social enterprise I am involved in as well as work almost full time for someone else. In context, my action learning opportunity was related to the social enterprise and my self employed role rather than my role as an employee.


So talking of employees let's take action learning into an organisation for an example.


What are the issues for an organisation? Perhaps it's something about ensuring the highest quality service or output. Who is responsible for this? Every member of the organisation. Everyone has a part to play. So gather 5 or 6 people from different departments, it might be the CEO, and representation from every department. Set the overarching topic area, and invite each person to consider what issues they have within the context. Set the boundaries or 'rules' of the group and get ready to get going!


There are facilitators out there who will run the action learning sets for you to get you started. I love it so much that I am one, but there's nothing to stop you having this support for an agreed number of sessions and then carrying on yourselves afterwards if you so choose.


Through action learning you will learn to really listen to people, to question in a way that benefits and enables the issue holder's learning as well as wider group learning. You'll learn about who you are, what motivates you and what makes you effective. You might become emotional, top tip ensure there are tissues. You might be elated sometimes or irritated with yourself at others. But if you engage and be an active participant I can guarantee you will get something from it!


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