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Action Learning in Action A Powerful New Tool for Solving Problems and Building Leaders, Action Learning in Action A Powerful New Tool for Solving Problems and Building Leaders, Teams and Organizations Michael J. Marquardt Professor, George Washington University Director, Global Institute of Action Learning

Workshop Objectives n n Gain an overview of the principles and practices of action Workshop Objectives n n Gain an overview of the principles and practices of action learning and examine how action learning differs from other organizational tools Explore the power of action learning in solving problems and in the building leaders, employees, high performance teams and learning organizations

What is Action Learning? A process that involves a small group working on real What is Action Learning? A process that involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals and as a team while doing so

Power and Benefits of Action Learning n n n Solves complex problems and challenges Power and Benefits of Action Learning n n n Solves complex problems and challenges in a systems-thinking approach Builds powerful teams Enables individuals and teams to learn while working Creates a corporate culture that can handle change and learns Develops leadership competencies Develops systems thinking and creativity

Action Learning - Worldwide n n n n Sodexho Novartis Siemens Boeing Caterpillar Baxter Action Learning - Worldwide n n n n Sodexho Novartis Siemens Boeing Caterpillar Baxter Singapore Polytechnic Fairfax Schools Organization of American States General Electric Du. Pont Samsung American University

Components of an Action Learning Program Project, challenge, task, or problem Group of 4 Components of an Action Learning Program Project, challenge, task, or problem Group of 4 -8 people with diverse perspectives Reflective questioning and listening Selecting purpose, creating solutions and taking action Commitment to learning Action Learning coach

Two Ground Rules/Guidelines in Action Learning 1. 2. Statements only in response to questions; Two Ground Rules/Guidelines in Action Learning 1. 2. Statements only in response to questions; anyone can ask questions Action learning coach has authority to intervene whenever he/she identifies learning opportunities

How Action Learning Differs from Other Problem-solving Groups 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. How Action Learning Differs from Other Problem-solving Groups 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Learning and team development as important as solving the problem Groups charged with implementing as well as solving real problems Membership not reserved to experts or involved people Questions precede answers; dialogue over discussion and debate Learning coach with power Actions and strategies requiring systems thinking

1. Problems/Challenges for Actions Learning n n Important to the organization or individual - 1. Problems/Challenges for Actions Learning n n Important to the organization or individual - not a made -up exercise Unimportant problems diminishes creativity, commitment and learning The more complex in nature, the more powerful and valuable is the action learning Problems should be feasible and within the authority and/or responsibility of group

Examples of Problems for Action Learning n n n n Recruiting high tech workers Examples of Problems for Action Learning n n n n Recruiting high tech workers Developing training programs for leaders Improving information systems Six Sigma projects Improving customer service Resolving conflict between departments Developing a new performance appraisal system Establishing work schedule

Two types of Action Learning Programs Singleproblem, incompany program n Multiple problems of one Two types of Action Learning Programs Singleproblem, incompany program n Multiple problems of one or more organizations n

2. Action Learning Group n n n 4 -8 members to maximize creativity From 2. Action Learning Group n n n 4 -8 members to maximize creativity From within and outside the organization Diverse so as to obtain fresh viewpoints (Pizza man) May be familiar or unfamiliar with roles and situations May include external resources when needed

Attributes of Group Members n n n Committed to solving problem Carefully listening to Attributes of Group Members n n n Committed to solving problem Carefully listening to one another Willing to develop and learn Respectful of others Constructive and supportive Group rather than individually focused

3. Questioning and Reflective Process n n n Questions before solutions so as to 3. Questioning and Reflective Process n n n Questions before solutions so as to diverge in a systems perspective rather than converge too quickly Questions allow us to reflect, to listen, to be creative, and to learn Seeds of solutions reside in questions n n Questions to clarify, to open up new avenues, to unpack, to offer ideas and insights, to learn Time and space needed to stand back, reflect, unfreeze, and gain new perspectives

Questions essential for understanding and reframing the problem n n Working on the right Questions essential for understanding and reframing the problem n n Working on the right problem Myth of the blind men and the elephant Questioning each other is only way to get agreement on the problem Understanding the context as well as the content of the problem

Power of Questions 1. 2. 3. Creative problem solving and systems thinking Build group Power of Questions 1. 2. 3. Creative problem solving and systems thinking Build group cohesiveness, listening and respect Increase reflection, learning and change

4. Solving Problems and Taking Action n n Problem Reframing Selecting purpose Creating Solutions 4. Solving Problems and Taking Action n n Problem Reframing Selecting purpose Creating Solutions Taking action

Holistic vs. Reductionist Approaches to Problem Solving n n n Seeks broad context in Holistic vs. Reductionist Approaches to Problem Solving n n n Seeks broad context in which to understand a problems and its potential solutions Aims to find unique, novel ideas that provide solution that can endure Puts solutions in a systems framework, recognizing interdependencies Employs many mental models – intuitive, analytical & creative Future oriented; focuses on creating solutions n n n Limits context to the problem itself Aims to find a single, immediate solution that “fixes” the problem Specifies changes only in terms of the parts of the problem n Employs rational, empirical thought processes n Past oriented; focuses on solving each problem

Elevating the Purpose n n n What is our real and important purpose? What Elevating the Purpose n n n What is our real and important purpose? What are we, you, the organization seeking to accomplish? Focusing on the future creates energy and requires anticipation of the future Enlarges your creative space Elevates thinking beyond obvious first answers Forces systematic thinking about what will be necessary to implement solution

Creating Optimal Solutions and Strategies n n View situation from various perspectives Expand the Creating Optimal Solutions and Strategies n n View situation from various perspectives Expand the possibilities of solutions Utilize project management methodologies Build on the three questions of: • Who knows what we are trying to do? (facts) • Who cares about getting it accomplished? (interest) • Who can get it implemented? (power)

Taking Action n Merely recommending diminishes creativity and commitment Testing ideas in practice determines Taking Action n Merely recommending diminishes creativity and commitment Testing ideas in practice determines if effective and practical No real learning occurs unless action is taken

5. Focus on Individual, Team and Organization-Wide Learning n n n Members take responsibility 5. Focus on Individual, Team and Organization-Wide Learning n n n Members take responsibility for own, group’s, and organization’s learning Time set aside to talk about learnings and how they can be applied systematically elsewhere Move from intuiting, to interpreting, to integrating, to institutionalizing knowledge

Learning Quickly and Continuously n n n L=P+Q+R New knowledge and information Improve relevant Learning Quickly and Continuously n n n L=P+Q+R New knowledge and information Improve relevant skills and competencies Reasoning and behaving differently Alters beliefs, values and basic assumptions Gain greater awareness and understanding of personal motives

6. Action Learning Coach n n n May be group member or “external” partner 6. Action Learning Coach n n n May be group member or “external” partner Ensure sufficient time for capturing learnings Help members to reflect on interactions and implications of actions to be taken Assure norms and processes are followed Create an atmosphere of learning and reflective inquiry

Coach Accelerates Performance and Learning n n n Problem Framing Questions Action Strategies Questions Coach Accelerates Performance and Learning n n n Problem Framing Questions Action Strategies Questions Group Effectiveness Questions Individual Learning Questions Organizational Application Questions

Guidelines for Various Roles in Action Learning Problem Presenter n n n n Take Guidelines for Various Roles in Action Learning Problem Presenter n n n n Take just 1 -2 minutes to highlight the key elements of the problem/challenge/task for which you would like to receive some help Trust that the group will ask the important information and details Be brief. If you take too long to present, the group may (a) have difficulty coming up with questions and (b) be bored or impatient with your details When you provide too much detail, you may create unnecessary or irrelevant “brush” which slows down or gets in the path which the group is seeking to find Answer the questions asked of you as concisely as you can You do not have to answer questions that (a) you do not have the answer for (“I don’t know”) or (b) for which you have not yet formed an opinion (“I need to think about that question; ” “I’m not sure”) Feel free to ask questions of other group members

Team Members n n n Seek to gain a group-agreed understanding of the problem Team Members n n n Seek to gain a group-agreed understanding of the problem by asking questions Make statements only in response to questions directed specifically to you or to the group as a whole Feel free to ask questions of other group members as well Try to build on each other’s questions rather than just on getting your questions answered Listen carefully to the questions of the action learning coach and do not resume working on the problem until he/she asks you to continue

Action Learning Coach n n n Focus is on helping the group learn/improve, and Action Learning Coach n n n Focus is on helping the group learn/improve, and not on helping to solve the problem Only ask questions Question to begin action learning session • (To problem presenter) Could you take a minute or so to tell us the problem or task that you would like the group to help you with? Questions at first intervention (8 -10 minutes into session) • How are we doing as a group thus far? (Ask each member for a 1 -2 word assessment; i. e. , okay, not okay, great, etc. ) • What are we doing well? • What could we do better? • Do we have agreement on the problem – yes or no? Why don’t we all write it down? Is there agreement? Continue. Questions at conclusion of session (20 -25 minutes) • (To the presenter) What action are you going to take as a result of this session? Were you helped? How? • (To the entire group) What did we do best as a group? What was the quality of our questions? What did we learn about problem-solving? Team formation and development? Did any of us demonstrate any leadership behaviors? What did we learn that we could apply to our lives/organizations?

Characteristics of an Effective Learning Coach n n n Trust the process and power Characteristics of an Effective Learning Coach n n n Trust the process and power of questions Ability to ask good questions, especially follow-up questions Intense listening skills Able to hear what is not being said Focused and concise n n n “Helicopter”and outsider perspective Ability to be nonjudgmental Tolerance of ambiguity Patience and empathy Openness

Facilitator vs. Learning Coach n n n Focus on group process Statements What happened Facilitator vs. Learning Coach n n n Focus on group process Statements What happened Dependence Single-loop learning Present and past Threatening Linear thinking Reaction Expertise Knowledge n n n Focus on learning Questions Why and how Independence Double and tripleloop Future and present Comforting and trust Critical thinking Reflection Perspective Wisdom

Benefits of Action Learning n n n Develop leaders and teams of leaders Problem Benefits of Action Learning n n n Develop leaders and teams of leaders Problem solving Developing systems thinking and creativity Building teams Create learning cultures and learning organizations

Leadership Development n n Every leadership competency can be developed when working with a Leadership Development n n Every leadership competency can be developed when working with a group over whom one has no control on a problem with no know solution Opportunities for selfreflection as well as supportive feedback from peers who are committed to helping us develop Action learning diminishes blind spots and expand capabilities We grow as leaders best when reflecting on what is urgent and important to us, and when our assumptions are challenged

Framing and Solving Problems n n Gaining fresh perspectives and new ways of seeing Framing and Solving Problems n n Gaining fresh perspectives and new ways of seeing issues Macro and micro views Generate “breakthrough” insights, solutions, and effective strategies Complement and contribute to other organizational operations

Systems Thinking n n n Skill of seeing: “wholes ” rather than parts; underlying Systems Thinking n n n Skill of seeing: “wholes ” rather than parts; underlying structures rather than events; patterns of changes rather than snapshots Identifying underlying causes and impacts Knowing when and how to leverage

Building and Guiding Teams n n n Sharing responsibility and accountability on real problems Building and Guiding Teams n n n Sharing responsibility and accountability on real problems builds strong team unity and success Questions and shared learning build powerful caring, collaboration and cohesion Working on agreed-to problems develops clearness of task, strong communications and commitment Results-driven structure Team synergy and team thinking emerges

Creating Organizational Change and Building Learning Organizations n n n Organizations are now able Creating Organizational Change and Building Learning Organizations n n n Organizations are now able to adapt to change more quickly Action learning groups are models of learning organizations Members assure that knowledge is captured and transferred Every event is a learning opportunity Learning is connected to all business goals

How to Introduce, Implement and Sustain Action Learning Programs n n n Introducing action How to Introduce, Implement and Sustain Action Learning Programs n n n Introducing action learning to the organization Types of action learning programs Group membership Full-time and part-time programs Action learning sponsors and champions Introducing the problem to the group Preparing the first action learning session Between sessions activities and responsibilities Pilot testing of strategies Follow-up Interaction with organization and top management

Questions/Learnings/Ideas Questions/Learnings/Ideas