Action learning sets

Action learning sets have gone in and out of style - but they have their place in a bespoke design blend.

They provide peer-to-peer mentoring and shared learning and development opportunities and are particularly good at developing good practice by sharing common concerns and issues to develop solutions to shared problems.

We believe that the best action learning sets comprise of a group of about six people working in related fields and at comparable levels of management responsibility. The group, or 'set' meet regularly for a contracted number of meetings over a given period. To be effective, an action learning set needs to follow a disciplined process:

  • Every member reports briefly on what has been happening
  • Set members decide who is going to present a particular situation that they currently face
  • The presenter describes their situation/dilemma/challenge
  • The set members ask questions designed to assist the presenter come to a deeper understanding
  • Set members do not give advice, tell anecdotes, pass judgement or talk about how it compares to their own situation
  • The set assists the presenter to review options and decide on action
  • The set reflects on the group process and gives feedback to each other on what has taken place
  • At a future set meeting, the presenter reports on the action taken

The facilitator:

  • Enables the set to reflect on group processes
  • Creates safety for individual members to explore sensitive issues
  • Takes the set beyond superficial analysis
  • Keeps the set focused on the individual presenter
  • Ensures that set members follow action learning conventions
  • Enables the group to draw out general lessons on leadership/management development

Action learning, by its very nature, also develops and enhances key skills crucial to leadership; listening and attending, reflecting back and questioning; disclosure and assertion.

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