'Action Learning Questions have been integrated with the Organisational Development Core Practice Programme delivered by Mayvin to the Civil Service in the UK, The process has proven immensely powerful in supporting HR professionals in developing their capability to make significant contributions to organisational change. The ALQ approach can be transformative both at an organisational and personal level.'
James Traeger, Director, Mayvin
In the UK the Civil Service Reform Plan is being implemented with urgency. This requires civil service departments and agencies to reform their structures and ways of working in order to deliver effective services in a climate of economic austerity and rapid social and technological change. Historically Human Resource (HR) professionals have provided services based on the HR Business Partner model which has meant a focus on strategic and operational HR services.
As part of the Civil Service Reform Plan HR managers and other professionals are now required to develop their capabilities in providing Organisation Development (OD) advice to their internal clients. In order to make this happen the Civil Service’s expert Organisation Development and Design Service launched an OD Capability Building programme and engaged OD specialists Mayvin to deliver it. The programme incorporates the postgraduate level accredited Action Learning Question method developed by Dr Richard Hale called, in this context, Organisation Development Questions (ODQs). Participants on the OD Capability Building programme are required to complete an ODQ over a five-month period. This entails scoping an OD challenge with key stakeholders, conducting some research and making recommendations for change or implementing such change. The participants work in 'action learning sets' and support each other with their problem solving and learning.
A final report is written up by each participant leading to the award of postgraduate level credits. Examples of ODQ areas include:
'As an action learning practitioner for 8 years in both the UK and Australia, I have seen the value it brings to organisations across two very distinct business cultures. It enables the right environment for change to occur because it impacts on peoples' behaviours very effectively. Communities of practice come together from diverse backgrounds within an organisation to work on a common challenge that is framed in the form of an Action Learning Question. Whilst success is naturally measured on achieving the desired outcomes, for me the huge value placed on the experience by all participants never fails to inspire me in finding new ways in which to employ this exciting methodology.'
Adam Trevaskus - Commercial Director, Ennesty Energy, Melbourne Australia
Professor Reg Revans as President IMCA (© IMCA 2014)
'Action learning is 'the collective treatment of real and threatening problems'
'We must try to give more time to questions from the floor and less to instructions from the rostrum'
'The treatment of complex administrative shortcomings cannot possibly be expected merely from the deliberations of distinguished committeesaction must involve the ordered change of some complex system - it is not enough to point out what ought to be done'
'We need to develop a capacity for questioning insight, to pose fertile and imaginative lines of enquiry when none around us knows the answer'
'The more those responsible for taking action are ask quite fresh questions the greater the chance of perceiving some useful line of action'
'We may more accurately describe action learning as development of the self by the mutual support of equals...'
'It is one's ignorance most needing to be explored, one's uncertainties that must be faced, one's troubles that must form the syllabus'
'For doing, or action, calls for commitment or true belief, while talking, or argument, calls only for intelligence or quickness of wit'
'Comradeship in adversity has a lot going for it'
'It has been assumed the education system can teach industry; action learning suggests the influences might flow in the opposite direction'
'Managers knowing they are in trouble will learn quickly with and from equal colleagues in the same misfortune'
'Some believe projects need exist only in the imagination of members & may regress back to the case study & the academic massage parlour'
'Meeting regularly to report on behalf of the project teams facing the real problems in the real world where real changes have to be made'
'What is printed now because it was proved a little while ago is becoming less sufficient to cope with uncertainties of tomorrow'
“We need to move beyond trying to teach our people. We need to give them a chance to learn. We recognise everyone has potential and brings something different to the table - knowledge and experience is valued with models and the academic piece coming after. The Action Learning Facilitator Accreditation programme enables us to develop the capability to learn and tackle real life business challenges and to move from just discussion to action and learning.
It has given me the opportunity to think differently about how I learn whilst at the same time tackling real business issues. It is different from the taught, case study approach where qualifications are delivered by ‘experts’. It turns the old model of learning on its head. I think businesses today cannot try to deal with issues as they have done in the past - business challenges today require people to be much more agile, flexible, fluid and dynamic. Having the ‘expert consultant’ come in and tell you what you should be doing doesn’t really work - you need the buy-in of the organisation and the people.
I definitely was out of my comfort zone many times on the ALFA programme. However if you trust in the process and are open to learning it is very rewarding. There is no one right answer to business challenges, they are all different and Action Learning Facilitators enable groups of people to learn and find the answers that are right for them in a collaborative way. I have realised action learning facilitators need the ability to listen, to be inclusive and committed to making a difference without being judgemental.”
Sharon Williams, Director of Human Resources
“As a business we introduced an action research and action learning approach to help us become an organisation that turns learning into knowledge, skills and abilities to solve our work challenges, deliver business benefit and achieve our strategy. We have established in Bright Horizons what we call the principles of Learning and Leading with Heart: as leaders in our field, we are committed to continuous learning and improvement. We challenge ourselves to ask questions, seek solutions and embrace new ideas. We value reflective practices and create the opportunity to help other functions.
The action learning approach enables us to work in an empowering and collaborative way, working cross functionally and maximising the wealth of experience and knowledge in our organisation. The Action Learning Facilitator Accreditation programme has enabled us to build a team of skilled facilitators acting as advocates and enablers of this action learning approach - the senior team are role-modeling the change we want to see.
Personally I wanted to build my knowledge and skills as an Action Learning Facilitator. I was keen to be part of the senior team who play a crucial role in ‘marketing’ the approach to the business. I believe that in today’s environment an action learning approach has a key role to play in engaging the workforce and creating ownership for learning.
My own Action Learning Facilitator Question has been around engaging action learners virtually and helping them to see the benefits of using our online portal. I have been helping them to see it as an integral way of working and not an ‘add on’ to their working day. The key challenge for me in terms of facilitating style is about finding the balance between directing and facilitating in a supportive way. It calls for the ability to question, listen, challenge and reflect. It demands patience and a sense of timing - judging how and when to move the action learning set on and when to step back and look at the group as a whole.”
Helen Mitchell, Learning and Development Manager
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