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Challenges of Implementing Action Learning

In his book ‘ABC of Action Learning’, (Revans, 1983) discussed the essential logistics for implementing the action learning in an organization.

  1. Exchange Options
  2. Individual and Teams
  3. Sponsors, Clients, Client Groups and Participants
  4. Problems not Puzzles
  5. The Learning Equation
  6. The Essential Character of a Set
  7. Induction Exercises
  8. Programme Phases

Each of the individual logistic can pose a challenge while implementing the action learning in an organization. The concept can be strongly resisted by the community or the leadership. The training community can see it as threat to the existing defined learning methodologies. In my opinion, some basic challenges which can be faced while implementing action learning can be:

Defining a problem

Selecting a problem statement is one of the most important aspects in action learning and it needs to be done very carefully. The problem statement would also later lead to the formulation of participants who would a common goal to solve the problem. An incorrect or vague problem statement would lead to a group formed which is not in best capacity to solve the particular problem.

Set Formation

Composing a set or group to solve a problem is strategic decision. It cannot be done randomly as the group should be comprised of people with programmed knowledge and questioning insights. There can be an issue with the learning styles of different people. Another issue can be the diversity of the group. There can be people which are like minded or friends and will not really challenge each other while questioning.

(Cusins, 1996) outlines five anti-group behaviours which hinder effective action learning in a set:

  1. The bully (excessive threatening behaviour)
  2. The blocker (repeatedly blocking other people’s ideas)
  3. The joker (continually using jokes to avoid real issues)
  4. The cop-out (excessive withdrawal from discussion with implied disapproval)
  5. The rambler (talk on and on without getting to the point)

Facilitator Role

The facilitator or the learning coach is one of the key elements of the action learning process.  He or she can be a major factor deciding the direction of the action learning process. Though a learning coach is not a member of set, they have to control the set and make sure that the members of group/set ensure that action learning principles are followed during the exercise. One of challenge could be to ensure that the action learning team has one such coach available all the time. For the short term an option could be employ the external facilitators. But as the very core of action learning methodology suggests to solve the problem in own capacity, in my opinion it’s worth to consider if the organization’s own resources could be trained to fill the role of a facilitator.

Resistance to Change

As similar to implementing a new process or methodology in an organization, the action learning can as well face resistance from all the corners. Generally, it could be from the learning community, department and leadership to mention the few. Learning community may be threatened by the fact that introduction of action learning methodology can all of a sudden change the way learning has happened and thought of in the organization. This would be also mean that the employees need to be retrained to understand and follow the new approach.  Leadership also need to get educated and convinced with the action learning approach. For all those problems which were resolved by external consultants or parties can be very well solved within the organization and the local teams. To achieve this, leadership needs to build a trust on the methodology and its own employees that they are capable of programmed knowledge and questioning insights to solve the various problems within the organization.

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