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Friday, November 20, 2009

Action Learning: Individual, Team and Organzational Learning

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.

Learning: Individual, Team and Organizational Learning:

At the core of Action Learning stands the very principles of learning and development. The individual participant learns by actively participating in the inquiry and action to solve the problem. The group learns as it faces the problem, answers questions, and adds to its knowledge base. The organization learns as group members spread the learning and inquiry process throughout. Thus, learning is leveraged throughout the company/organization.

Action Learning groups are SAFE places for Leaders to Practice. In professional sports, athletes practice 90% of the time and only play in contests 10%. However, in leadership it exactly the REVERSE….90% playing for keeps and only 10% practice. Action Learning shifts that equation in favor of providing a safe place to practice and learn. Some questions from the author:

a. How does action learning generate learning?

i. Using Kolb’s learning model, here’s the cycle:
--1. Concrete Experience: Group participants actually get experience by working on the problem. They also get experience when they take action (outside the group meeting) and bring back their experience to the group.
--2.Observe and Reflect: Participants learn inquiry and reflect on their own actions. The Coach also asks the group directly to reflect on decisions, actions, etc.
--3. Generalize and Conceptualize: Participants figure out how to apply the learned concepts to new problems. The Coach helps the group identify norms and principles that will help them in the future—transformational learning (Merirow, 1991).
--4. Test and Experiment: Participants pilot test their ideas for success and failure…both teach the group. The Coach helps the group reflects on what worked and didn’t and what the group learned (behaviors and values).

b. What are the competencies learned in Action Learning?

--i.Individual learning: You can’t change a system without changing yourself. Actions change the system and the actors. Key skills learned in the action learning process: reflection, decision making, systems thinking, active listening, self awareness, empathy, presentation and facilitation...to mention only a few.
--ii. Leadership Learning: Much of what’s learned in action learning follows the research and work of Daniel Goleman on Emotional and Social Intelligence: Self Awareness (self observation and understanding of strengths and challenges); Managing emotions (coping effectively with emotions like fear, anxiety, anger and sadness); Motivating oneself (emotional self control); Empathy (being sensitive to the feelings of others); Handling relationships (managing the emotions of others in the context of a relationship).
--iii.Team Learning: Teams learn the following—Shared commitments to solving problems; Clarifying problems;Willingness to work with others to solve problems and develop strategies; Courage to ask the tough question; Respecting others; Willing to learn and help others; Establish trust in the group.
--iv.Organizational Learning: Action Learning helps build a “learning organization quickly in a company or organization. Such a learning organization has 4 components, according to Marquardt:

1. Increased learning skills: groups develop learning skills by learning. The process is recombinant much like DNA…learning creates better, faster learning.
2. Transformed organizational culture and structure: Action learning groups act independently and democratically with a minimum of structure and hierarchy. They create new culture and values (inquiry, experimentation, etc.) along the journey…that infects and affects the organization.
3. Involvement of the entire business chain in the learning process. Action learning can and does often involved customers, suppliers, vendors, etc. in the learning process. Opening up the boundaries—makes possibilities much richer.
4. Enhanced capability and to manage knowledge: Action learning helps members learn and practice the following: acquiring knowledge, creating knowledge, storing knowledge, and testing and transferring knowledge.

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