GLOBALISATION, fast-changing technology and fierce competition leave organisations grappling with complex and urgent problems, be it a challenge related to production, quality, customer service or staff retention.
Leaders cannot solve problems on their own. They need the wealth of knowledge and experience that lies within a team.
How do you ensure all team members contribute to the solution, support each other to solve the problem and stay focused during discussions?
How does a problem-solving session help team members develop leadership skills such as self-awareness, humility, empathy, active listening skills and more?
Organisations need a process where people with fresh ideas and diverse experiences come together to create an open, supportive, creative and constructive environment to venture outside the boundaries of traditional solutions.
Action Learning is a unique way of solving complex and urgent, individual, team, organisational or community problems. It is designed around a process that has deliberate and intended steps for the team members to learn from their actions.
This distinguishes Action Learning from other problem-solving methods. As the team members take actions to solve problems in real time, they get smarter and more efficient, ready to solve more complex problems in the future with less effort and more efficiency.
The process creates an environment of openness, trust and authenticity, elevating individual team members to a higher level of leadership, leading to team effectiveness.
The process at work
An Action Learning group in an organisational setting comprises six to eight members who work on a real, complex and urgent problem, with the assistance of an Action Learning coach who facilitates group learning while they work on the problem at hand.
The group may convene one or more times, identifying potential solutions, taking action and learning from these.
A real problem that affects the organisation or the team is a suitable situation for Action Learning. The problem needs to be urgent and one that would have an adverse impact on the organisation if it is not solved within a specific period of time.
Team members could be from varied backgrounds - stakeholders who are affected directly or indirectly by the problem, people with wide-ranging experience to understand the problem and contribute to the solution, people with fresh views, people who are naturally curious and questioning and people with authority to allocate resources to resolve the problem.
The process of Action Learning is designed to generate the power to solve the problem and at the same time enhance the effectiveness of the team.
As members pose questions to each other and build on each other's questions, they understand various facets of the problem. By staying away from opinions, judgments and comments, members get to focus on the problem at hand without being dragged into or distracted by extraneous factors.
As they strive to ask great questions, they develop and practise crucial skills such as active listening, mutual understanding, respectful intervening and personal risk-taking. Great questions open up their minds to fresh ideas and unearth hidden assumptions, helping them to redefine or rephrase the problem.
One of the outcomes of an Action Learning session is a set of specific time-bound actions to be taken by one or more members of the team.
Taking actions are important since they result in learning and also in outcomes which will help solve the problem. As the team reconvenes in a succeeding session, the members will reflect on the actions taken and not taken, ask fresh questions about the actions and assimilate their learning from taking those actions.
As the team members, assisted by the coach, ask, listen, reflect, build on and respond to questions, they start learning more about the problem, other team members and, most important of all, themselves.
The ground rules govern the team members' behaviour and encourage them to slow down and reflect, rather than jump to premature conclusions and judgments.
The learning coach challenges the team members to stretch themselves, thus generating a creative tension to catalyse the team process.
Why Action Learning?
Action Learning helps participants gain confidence in their leadership and team participation skills. It enables members to establish effective, mutually respectful working relationships between them, and develop competence in the problem-solving and decision-making processes.