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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Action Learning: The Coach's Role


This is the FINAL of several posts on Action Learning

So, consider: What if you told a CEO that you could show her/him a process that would solve his/her most difficult corporate problems AND would teach participants leadership and how to work together in collaborative, positive, enabling work teams. I think we all know the CEO’s likely response: Start this Action Learning NOW!

Over this past week, I’ve been providing 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.

The Coach: The catalyst of the group, the Coach stays myopically focused on the learning of the group—which actually helps the group grow and get better at what they do. Coaches are continuous improvers of the learning process. Reflection remains the Coaches key tool. The Coach asks groups to reflect about what they’re doing, how it’s working, what they’re learning, and other learning and leadership development questions. The coach can be an outsider or one designated member of the group--thus learning as they coach. Some questions that will illuminate the role of a Coach:

a. Why is someone (the Coach) only focused on learning?
--i. While the group must be focused on the problem, the Coach acts as observer, catalyst, and champion of learning—otherwise much learning will go unnoticed and never be internalized by group members. The Coach periodically (appropriately) stops the group and asks them to reflect on such questions as: How are we doing? What’s the quality of our questions…high, medium, low? Is everyone participating…yes or no? These questions, and many others cause groups to interrupt their activity to learn and become problem solvers and leaders.
--ii. Who can be the Coach? Anyone in the group or any outsider. The Coach should be taught the techniques of action learning, but anyone in the group can be shown the methods. In fact, rotating the process can help others to learn and appreciate the role and its value to continuous learning. Of course, trained outsiders offer their own objective value to any such endeavor.

b.Why questions as the primary method of the Coach?
--i. Questions cause reflection, which causes learning, which causes improvement at solving problems and growing leaders. That’s it short and simple. Questions are respectful, non-judgmental, and cause the group to think and speak.
--ii. Intervention—the Coach can intervene whenever s/he sees fit is one of the only two cast-in-stone rules of Action Learning. The other is questions only, statements made only in response to questions. This deference/power allows the Coach to keep the process within boundaries and to continuously monitors learning as well as results.

c. Why don’t coaches get involved in problem solving?
--i. The Coach’s involvement in the problem can show his biases and shit the group’s thinking. The problem solving can push out the learning and development, thus give up 50% of the value. The Coach would take her/his eye of the learning ball.

d. When do Coaches Intervene?
--i. Beginning. Coaches ask questions to orient the group. Does everyone know how Action Learning works? What exactly is the task or problem the presenter has laid out? Will you write down what you think the problem is so we can compare?
--ii. Middle: Throughout the process, Coaches merely need to condition the group by leaning in to stop the action and ask a question, or lean back to resume it. Questions at this point look like this: How are we doing as a team…OK or not-Okay? What have we done well so far? What could we do better? Is everyone participating?
--iii. End: The Coach ensures that the meeting ends on time and that team members reflect deeply on what happened and what action must be taken and by whom before the next gathering. Questions look like this: What have we learned? How did we do as a team? How can we improve as a team? What have you learned about yourself? What actions will you take before our next meeting?

Final Comments on Action Learning:

1.I can’t remember being as excited about a method since I learned how to be an executive coach. And frankly the fit is so synchronous that it’s amazing. I will find it hard not to recommend this process to every client and company I work with.

2.Having already used the process with clients, I can attest to its effectiveness and efficiency. And, the learning that takes place is palpable and every bit as important as the problem solving.

3. So, consider: What if you told a CEO that you could show her/him a process that would solve his/her most difficult corporate problems AND would teach participants leadership and how to work together in collaborative, positive, enabling work teams. I think we all know the CEO’s likely response: Start this Action Learning NOW!

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