Have Action Learning Sets Been Reinvented?

Some of the recent projects we have been involved in at Azure have included action learning sets as part of a leadership development programme. This concept started way back in the 60’s, created by the academic professor (and former medal winning Olympian!) Reg Revans. Over the years they have gone in and out of fashion, but to those who value them have remained a great staple of development programmes.

These recent projects have reminded me why that is. Set up in the right way with the right members, they provide a great space to share issues, provide support and challenge in equal measure and most importantly ensure learning takes place. Recent participants on an Aspiring Leaders Programme in Kirklees Council seem to have developed great resilience despite facing some very challenging times, which has been greatly aided by the action learning sets they attend on a bi-monthly basis.

At the same time, the coaching industry has been developing hugely in recent years.  Whilst individual coaching has been around for some time, team coaching in its truest sense is a newer addition starting to add great value and recently, more articles about group coaching have emerged.  When I reflected on the criteria present in group coaching, it feels as if things have gone ‘full circle’.  Whilst action learning sets may not have all the exact criteria of group coaching, there are some huge similarities.

Unlike team coaching, used specifically to help ‘in tact’ teams work together more effectively, both group coaching and action learning sets are made up of individuals who bring their challenges to a set of people who do not normally work together (but may hold similar level positions in an organisation).  By far the most effective of our action learning sets comprise people who have been trained in the basics of good coaching – they ask powerful questions, really listen to their fellow participants and are prepared to probe without giving advice.  Members make commitments to act on their issues between sessions and feedback on progress made at subsequent meetings. Once a number of sessions have been facilitated, many groups feel able to take the sessions forward themselves, ensuring they are making best use of the group with whom they have built up relationships.

Always on the look out to ensure our programmes make as much impact as possible and provide genuine value for money, we at Azure have been reminded how valued action learning sets can be and will be suggesting them more readily to our clients in future who are keen to ensure their leadership development projects make the greatest impact possible on their organisation.

Sharon Klein, July 2016