How Action Learning can help you become a better coach for your business
Authors: Tina Cook
Tina Cook, Action Learning facilitator
12 June 2013
Action Learning (AL) is a key component of the LEAD programme which is due to be introduced in London this September. SMEs who have taken part in Action Learning at Lancaster University have gone on to boost their annual turnover by an average of £360,000. Action Learning founder, Reg Revans, developed it to tackle the really difficult challenges and problems facing organisations and decision makers. AL is an unusual innovation in organisation development and management education as it is based on managers doing their own research and tackling their own problems. As an SME owner, it transforms you to coach your management teams and design collaborative solutions.
For some LEAD participants, Action Learning is the key powerful element of the programme. I’ve been working as an Action Learning Specialist on the LEAD programme for four years with Lancaster University and I’ve seen how learning and practising the AL process can transform SME owners’ methods of engaging with their employees, resolving and finding solutions, effective delegation and providing them with real results without delay.
So what is Action Learning? AL is an accelerated learning tool, conducted in groups, which allows participants to reflect and review any business issue in a safe and confidential setting. Instead of being given a solution, participants are encouraged to arrive at the solution themselves through critical questioning techniques deployed by their peers who are guided by a skilled facilitator. A key part of AL is how you “support and challenge” each other with these insightful questions, prompting a new way to look at your existing challenge. You could see AL like a recipe, which brings together several components to create these problem-solving opportunities.
During an AL session I held, in partnership with London Fusion, I demonstrated how an AL set is conducted followed by group facilitation to enable delegates to learn the methodology. We had lots of encouraging positive feedback from the session.
Using Skype, Andy, a current LEAD AL Set delegate, answered questions from delegates. Andy said the value for him was “to be with a group of people from very diverse businesses, who can help view things from outside your own company.” Peter, a 2011 LEAD delegate, whose set still meets regularly, has said that “issues you could spend over a weekend on, can be resolved within a half hour slot in an action learning set.”
Action Learning has been proven to improve productivity and collaborative working within businesses. This is because the SME leader, having learnt and experienced this powerful learning tool inevitably champions the use of this technique within his/her organisation. As Ruth Cook, MD of GWP Packaging says about her Action Learning experience as a LEAD delegate “It has been invaluable to me being able to work through and resolve difficult people issues with like-minded peers.” The organisation transforms from having a single decision – maker to a collaborative team who together work on complex problems. There is greater collective responsibility and as a result high levels of trust between the senior management team members.
Action learning with LEAD aims to develop SME owners. However, the most valuable asset to businesses are the skills that you can transfer to your management team. By undertaking the process, you enhance their ability to think critically to arrive at solutions themselves, allowing them to work more collaboratively. It allows you to ‘coach’ your team into a more productive workforce. Laura, a current LEAD delegate, says it all, “I strongly recommend Action Learning, as it has so many benefits.”
Find out more about The LEAD London programme for growing businesses, launching in September, here.
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