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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Action Learning: Action Strategies

Over this week, I’ll be doing an in-depth review of Optimizing the Power of Action Learning: Solving Problems and Building Leaders in Real Time by Michael J. Marquardt (Davis-Black Publishers, 2004). CEO’s and Leaders—put this book on your MUST BUY list.

This is the SEVENTH of several posts on Action Learning.

Action Strategies: Here it is short and sweet: No action, no learning. Great Buddhist proverb: “To know something, but not use it, is not knowing." There are two general approaches to problem solving: the analytical and integrative model. With analytical model, there is only one right solution to the problem (remember the hammer/nail analogy). With the integrative model there are more than one, often a number of right answers. Systems (or integrative, holistic) thinking in contrast to linear thinking, spots patterns and alternative paths to solutions, rather than THE way. Here's just one of many questions the author asks: What is the quality of problem solving?
The four stages of problem solving:

1. Understanding and reframing the problem. Rushing in to answer a “symptom” not a real problem can just defer disaster—even precipitate it. The coach makes sure that everyone has the same question in mind before proceeding further. The coach asks all to write down their versions of the problem, with the presenter last. Only if they agree does the group move forward. Wonderful quote: “It is better to first put your finger on the problem before sticking your nose in it.” ~Anonymous.

2. Framing and Formulating the Goal: Once you have the problem straight, the group has to decide what to DO. Groups must have courage to tell the problem presenter what the group sees as the real problem and then fashion goals around what the group sees as critical. NOTE: “Focusing on the problem rather than the desirable future generates negative, overwhelming and dissipating energy. Focusing on the desired future, however, creates positive energy (Cooperrider, et. al., 2001).

3.Developing and Testing Strategies. After determining the problem and goal, groups have to look at strategies (what) and tactics (how to) solve the problem. Ask two questions: Is the action appropriate? Is it doable? Rather than brainstorming (a linear, Newtonian approach), the author suggest building on questions of the group, moving from chaos and systems thinking to solutions. Much more effective and efficient….less sidetracking. Multiple alternatives will be developed and need to be tested (pilots etc.) for their impact and leverage.

4. Taking Action and Reflecting on the Action: Groups will lose interest unless they take action. You can’t learn how to swim sitting on the shore only reading books about swimming. At the end of every session, the Coach will ask what specific actions will be taken. These actions should be recorded by the group and tracked. They should be SMART….specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and time bound.

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