Newsletter No 12. November 2008

In our last issue we talked about the role of Scenarios in future-proofing your organisation, starting with helping to develop a robust strategy.

As everyone knows, you can have the best strategy in the world - but it’s worthless unless and until it’s implemented.

In this issue we will talk about Action Learning as a key element in successful strategy implementation. Action Learning is above all a practical tool; it improves people’s ability and capacity to learn; it helps in knowledge management and sharing; it can turn companies into mature, learning organisations; and it provides a secure framework for people to implement their decisions and learning.

In this issue:

Best wishes from the LASA Team

Latest thinking

Latest Thinking - Action Learning

A multi-purpose tool to turn decisions into actions; to drive Knowledge Management and Sharing; to develop the Learning Organisation; and to increase individual learning capacity.

What is it?

Action Learning is a method for learning-by-doing, with the added benefits of sharing experiences and supportive analysis, which speeds up the learning.

It is applicable to implementation of a strategy, a project, a change process - in fact, any circumstance where there is a real issue to be resolved.

Part of the method is to explicitly identify what the learning has been, and then to share it with the rest of the organisation.

The power of Action Learning comes from releasing and reinterpreting the accumulated experiences of the people who make up an organisation or community.  It concentrates on managing risks and uncertainties, and on learning from individual experiences for the benefit of all the stakeholders of the organisation or community.

When used in conjunction with a development programme, Action Learning  helps to anchor the learning of new skills and competencies. Members of the Action Learning Set share their experiences of applying their learning, and receive help and support in return.

How does it work?

Participants work in Action Learning Sets to learn with and from each other in a small, facilitated group - typically, 4-6 people.  Meetings are held regularly (we find every 6-8 weeks is best), maintaining the momentum of the process and ensuring regular monitoring of individual’s project and of the unfolding future.

Participants start to learn when they discover that no one person has all the answers, but each can help the other to find his own solution. 

In an Action Learning Set, participants meet together to work through real problems.

Discriminating questioning is at the heart of Action Learning.  The Set is there to answer three questions: 

  • What are we trying to do? 
  • What is stopping us from doing it? 
  • What might we be able to do about it?

In the process the group will reflect on what they are doing, what they have learned and where they are now.

The group agrees their ‘boundaries’ including confidentiality rules, and they agree they are all allowed to freely criticise, advise and support each other within the group meeting, since they will be tackling real-life problems, in real time, in the real world. 

This is the basic process that we use when facilitating Action Learning Sets.  Of course one must be flexible, but it may help you to get a clearer understanding of what a Set meeting is like. 

Each person has an equal amount of ‘air time’ for their issue and for each person the process would be:

Step 1  understand the problem

  • Participant introduces a work problem they are having, explains how it came about and what they have done up to the point where they became ‘stuck’  and can see no way forward
  • The Set members seek clarification - but can only ask questions - What have you tried? What happened when you tried…? (i.e. they are not allowed to say ‘You ought to…’ etc).
  • Through the questioning, the “problem holder” finds a clearer, more objective view of the issue. This in itself can be a revelation to the “problem holder”, whose subjective point of view may have prevented them from seeing the true issue
  • Facilitator checks that everyone understands the problem and what has happened so far

Step 2  explore options

  • The group brainstorms the problem, but can only ask questions, i.e.: What would happen if…? Have you tried this? Could you try….? (NB: no ‘If I were you”, “You should do…” etc)
  • The “problem holder” moves from “no way forward” to a choice of directions and options. Enthusiasm is rekindled to tackle the problem.

Step 3  action to implement

  • From the options now available, the ‘problem holder” chooses the next step they will take towards a solution. They commit to the group what they will do and promise to report back at the next meeting.

Step 4  highlight the learning

  • The facilitator takes the group out of the ‘problem solving’ activity to review the process they have gone through and identify both successful and unhelpful approaches. What helped it go well? What slowed it down?
  • Participants take a step back from subjective involvement and take objective view - analyse lessons learned.

Step 5 before the next meeting:

  • The “problem holder” takes their chosen action back to the their real problem in the work place and puts it into practice. They see the practical effects of new action. They note the results for next Action Learning meeting.

Step 6: at the next meeting

  • In Step 1 each person reports on the action they committed to, i.e.: how they went about it; what resulted; how they felt about it; what they plan to do next and what they have learned
  • The next steps are re-iterated as needed by the problem holder.  They may choose to introduce a different problem if the initial problem has been solved.

Step 7 distinguish process from issue

  • The facilitator helps the group review what they have learned about the work issue and the solution finding process.
  • Each participant learns both aspects in their own particular context: they have seen how the process was able to help them unlock solutions to their own problem, and how they are now able to take practical action to address their own real issue
  • At the same time, each participant has been a supporter to the other “problem holders” and understands the value of the process as both “giver” and “receiver”.

Outcomes:

  • Real problems are addressed; issues are identified objectively
  • Several possible solutions are aired and evaluated
  • Participants make decisions and commit to action
  • Learning is put into practice; lessons are learned and shared with the group
  • Possibility of cascading the learning throughout the organisation (depending on the make-up of the group)
  • Participants feel supported during the meetings, as well as throughout the Action Learning Programme
  • Participants experience increased confidence in their decisions, and in their actions
  • Participants experience renewed energy and enthusiasm for their work, their team and the organisation
  • Strong relationships are built within the group, based on trust, honesty and shared learning experiences
  • The organisation benefits directly from:
    • the lessons learned - actions taken
    • shared learning (Knowledge Transfer)
    • increased performance and confidence of individual participants
    • renewed individual commitment to the organisation or community
    • team building - strong relationships within the Action Learning Group
    • increased enthusiasm by the group to work together to the benefit of the organisation or community

Conclusion

At LASA we have been using Action Learning as a key development process for almost two decades. We have seen just how powerful is the act of sharing learning in a supportive, creative environment.

Action Learning is a valuable tool to any business or community wishing to become a mature, learning organisation. It is an effective and economical way of expanding learning (and the resultant improved performance) from a small group to the larger whole. 

We know of Action Learning Sets who are still meeting up regularly, more than 10 years after the initial programme ended, and when participants have moved on to different organisations and countries.

The learning those participants shared has been multiplied through its transferences to every new organisation each participant touched - such is the power of Action Learning.

© Patricia Lustig, 2008

Latest Books

Action Learning in Practice – 3rd Edition

Edited by Mike Pedlar
Published by Gower, London 1997


And

 

Action Learning – The Successful Manager Series

By Krystyna Weinstein
Published by HarperCollins, London 1995

There are many books on Action Learning and certainly there are more recent books. These two are in our library and have stood the test of time. Action Learning in Practice has everything you ever wanted to know about Action Learning between its covers – starting with the history of how Reg Revans came to pull it together out of the development work he was doing with managers to what it is (in great detail) to how to use it to using it in different places around the world. Mike Pedlar is currently Professor of Action Learning at Henley Business School. Krystyna Weinstein’s book is more about her personal learning journey with Action Learning, how she has used it, how you might use it and what she has learned. Both are useful, the first being more academic in tone and the second somewhat easier to read and less weighty.

Leading Like Madiba: Leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela

Martin Kalungu-Banda
Published by Double Storey Books Cape Town 2006

I’m including this book because I really loved reading it recently. What an absolute, uplifting joy it was to read! Martin Kalungu-Banda has taken stories from Nelson Mandela’s life and extracted the leadership lessons from each one. And how amazing they are! I am tempted to say if you want to read ONE book on leadership about someone who embodies being a great leader, this is the book to read. It will inspire you. Of course we each embody leadership in our own unique way, however, there are lessons here for each of us and ideas that we can each try out that will improve our leadership.

There are 22 short stories, each with a different leadership lesson and a note Martin calls ‘Food for Thought’. There are also lovely black and white photos of Mandela to illustrate the stories. The stories and lessons are quite simple, but all the more powerful for their simplicity. I suppose a bit like Mr. Mandela himself! I found many of the stories gave me something to aspire to.

At the end of the book, Martin distils the lessons down even further so that there are six main lessons for you to take forward. This is a most wonderful book which I can highly recommend – enjoyable, easy reading with a powerful and memorable punch.

IT Corner

Browser Wars Revisited

If you were into the internet in the early days you will have been well aware of Browser Wars I. During this time features were very basic and the two main adversaries were Netscape and Internet Explorer. These two battled it out by adding new features every couple of months with new versions. The features they added were almost always non-standard (there was no real standard) so if you got a site to work in one browser, the chances were it would not work in the other. The looser of that war was Netscape.

We are in the throes of a second war. Less aggressive than the first, and for the most part it is not as difficult for web developers either. The fight - as before - is about gaining users and the tactics are all about user features rather than web page features. They have added tabs, improved bookmarking, the ability to customise the look. The main players are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera with the new boy on the block, Chrome.

How do you decide which one you want to use? It depends on what you want. If you want the least hassle then stay with the one that comes with the PC, which will either be IE or Safari. They might not have the best features but they are just there. If you want the simplest, quickest interface then it looks like Chrome is the one to go for, it has a very uncluttered interface and is very quick. If you want to have all the bells and whistles (a mass of plug-ins) then Firefox is the one to go for because it can be extended in so many different ways – we love it for its website design and JavaScript debugging tools.

I have been a long term user of Opera. They really pioneered the tab interface, including the ability to close down and reopen tabs in exactly the same place on all the tabs. This was great for family history research as tabs were dedicated for each type of search, it saved one from noting down were you had got to in a piece of research.

If I had to plump for only one it would be Firefox, although IE is winning the battle in the wider world, this is only because it is prebuilt into Windows.

Interesting Links

Diwaali lights Diwaali lights © PMLustig November 2008

Latest News from LASA

  • Tricia is one of the facilitators in a short series of innovative enquiry one-day workshops starting on 4 December in London. Entitled “Creating futures: beyond profit”, the workshops acknowledge the growing realisation that the tipping point has been reached with recent financial crises; and that the only people who can make a difference and take action for the future is us: ordinary mortals.

    The enquiry is designed to create alternatives and make them happen; it aims to bring together future-thinking individuals and organisations who wish to take an active, positive role in shaping the future. Big scale thinking, maybe: but recent events have revealed the deep, deep cracks in current systems and thinking.

    More information is available from Tricia (tricia@lasa-insight.com) or from the organisers, Change Forum (info@changeforum.co.uk). Tickets are priced at a nominal £165 per day to cover venue & catering costs, and to encourage and enable individuals to participate.
  • Tricia and Gill Ringland completed two articles for publication, one in issue 4 of Organisations & People and the other in the January issue of Croner’s Developing HRD Strategy published by Wolters Kluwer. Both articles were about how people can use scenarios to handle uncertainty.
  • Tricia and Gill Ringland ran an event for the Henley Partnership Programme, again on using scenarios.
  • Tricia spoke at The Green Economics Conference in Devon on Community Building. Her paper is available here.
  • Nic launched the new LASA Website. Please do visit it.
  • Nic is taking over the maintenance of the website of HE@Work.

Quotes

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.  - Clay P. Bedford

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.  - Henry L. Doherty

I am learning all the time.  The tombstone will be my diploma.  - Eartha Kitt

It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.  - Attributed to Harry S. Truman

Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections.  You can keep your sterile truth for yourself.  - Vilfredo Pareto

When the student is ready, the master appears.  - Buddhist Proverb

It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.  - Jacob Bronowski

Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.  - Mark Twain

Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.  - Oliver Wendell Holmes

You learn something every day if you pay attention.  - Ray LeBlond

Some people will never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.  - Alexander Pope

Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every conceived notion, follow humbly wherever and whatever abysses nature leads, or you will learn nothing.  - Thomas Huxley

I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.  - Abraham Lincoln

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.  - Chinese Proverb

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.  - Martin H. Fischer

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.  - Winston Churchill

The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.  - Mortimer Adler

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  - Henry Ford

It is not hard to learn more.  What is hard is to unlearn when you discover yourself wrong.  - Martin H. Fischer

I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.  - Dudley Field Malone

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem.  That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.  - Thomas Szasz

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.  - Alvin Toffler

Learning without thought is labour lost.  - Confucius
The man who is too old to learn was probably always too old to learn.  - Henry S. Haskins

We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.  - Lloyd Alexander

You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way.  - Marvin Minsky

Learning is like rowing upstream:  not to advance is to drop back.  - Chinese Proverb

People learn something every day, and a lot of times it's that what they learned the day before was wrong.  - Bill Vaughan

Joke corner

If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed;
if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.'
 -Mark Twain

Suppose you were an idiot.
And suppose you were a member of Congress....
But then I repeat myself.
-Mark Twain

I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
-Winston Churchill

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul
can always depend on the support of Paul.
- George Bernard Shaw

 A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.
-G. Gordon Liddy

Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
-James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
-Douglas Casey

Giving money and power to government is like
giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
-P.J. O'Rourke, Civil Libertarian

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else.
-Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:
If it moves, tax it.
If it keeps moving, regulate it.
And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
-Ronald Reagan (1986)

I don't make jokes...
I just watch the government and report the facts.
-Will Rogers

If you think health care is expensive now,
wait until you see what it costs when it's free!
- P.J. O'Rourke

In general, the art of government consists of
taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
-Voltaire (1764)

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you!
-Pericles (430 B.C.)

No man's life, liberty, or property is safe
while the legislature is in session.
-Mark Twain (1866)

 Talk is cheap...except when Congress does it.
-Unknown

The government is like a baby's alimentary canal:
a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.
-Ronald Reagan

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings.
The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
-Winston Churchill

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.
-Mark Twain

There is no distinctly Native American criminal class...save Congress.
-Mark Twain

 What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.
-Edward Langley, Artist (1928 - 1995)

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.
-Thomas Jefferson

 

LASA Website

If this interests you, there are other interesting resources on the LASA Insight website so why not take a look by going to www.lasa-insight.com

Comments and Feedback

If you have any comments or feedback on - or suggestions for - this newsletter then please email them to us  here

@Patricia Lustig 2008