Action Learning Sets

February 23rd, 2011 by Sarah Green Leave a reply »

Diagram 1: Based upon Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

Zircon is always keen to learn about new ideas and techniques, which we can add to our consulting ‘tool kit’, in order to deliver practical and effective Talent Management solutions to our clients. As a result I (Melissa Tyson) attended the BPS taster course for ‘Action Learning Sets’ which provided a great overview of the way in which they can be used within the workplace.

What is an ‘Action Learning Set’?

An ‘Action Learning Set’ is when a small group of people (usually 5 or 6) meet together in order to discuss work-related issues. It is based upon Kolb’s four stages of ‘Experiential Learning’, and encourages several learning behaviours including a) reflection upon work-related problems b) exploration of practical solutions c) learning from experience d) learning from one another.

‘Action Learning Sets’ therefore work on the basis of knowledge sharing, providing a safe and supportive environment, in which work-related issues can discussed. As a result ‘Action Learning Sets’ provide great opportunities for strong networks and relationships to be developed over time, ultimately increases people’s skills and confidence in the workplace.

Who can be part of an ‘Action Learning Sets’?

In order to develop an ‘action learning set’ in the workplace a group of individuals must be willing to meet on a regular basis in order to discuss work related issues. These individuals may work closely with each other on a day-to-day basis or they may be from different areas of the company. However, it is unlikely that the set will include sub ordinates and super ordinates due to the problems regarding unequal power relationships.

How do ‘Action Learning Sets’ work?

In practice ‘action learning sets’ work by one member presenting a work based issue which they would like to discuss. The other members will then ask exploratory questions regarding the issue being presented. At the end of the time the person presenting their issue will feedback on their experience of the process and what learning has taken place. Depending on the time available, this process may be repeated with other set members. At the next ‘action learning set’, it is important to revisit the issues which were presented in the previously, and discussing them in terms of:

– What they did
– What happened as a result
– How was it different from what they expected
– What have they learned from this
– Where else could this learning be applied

What skills are required in an ‘Action Learning Set’?

‘Action Leaning Sets’ are reliant upon two very important skills; Active listening and Helpful Questioning.
Active Listening is important to gain trust. This includes being aware of peoples gestures and feelings, as well as being sensitive to cues, such as the ‘disconnect’ between what a person is saying (words) and what they are presenting (body language). Active listening allows the person, who is presenting their work based issue, ‘air time’ to encourage reflection and a feeling of being heard.

Helpful Questioning requires asking open questions or questions for clarification to gain understanding of the issue. Reflective and analytical questions encourage the member to consider their problem from all angles, whilst action oriented questions encourage the member to develop their own solutions to their issue.

When should ‘Action Learning Sets’ occur?

There are no set rules for how often ‘Action Learning Sets’ occur. It is based upon the need of the group. ‘Action learning sets’ can be as regular as every week or may require only meeting once every quarter.

It was evident from the taster course that ‘Action Learning Sets’ are extremely useful tools which encourage people to move forward in their development, whilst being supported by their colleagues. Indeed Zircon has included Action Learning in their leadership development programmes.

Written by: Melissa Tyson, Occupational Psychologist

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