Virtual specialist

Action Learning Groups

& Communities of Interest


Action learning is a technology for solving problems and learning at the same time.

Action Learning is based on the common sense notion that people learn most effectively when working on real-time problems occurring in their own work setting with people they trust.

The most obvious difference between action learning and other problem solving methods is the emphasis given to asking questions rather than making statements. This emphasis on questions leads to better solutions to problems and deeper learning.

The great attraction of action learning is its unique power to simultaneously solve difficult problems and develop people and organisations at minimal costs to the institution.

Training budgets can be reduced because learning occurs without extra cost or time.

When to use Action Learning

  1. To solve difficult and complex problems where there are no obvious answers
  2. To build learning within the organisation
  3. To establish Communities of Practice
  4. To develop people capabilities
  5. To build and exchange knowledge
  6. To build trust and sharing of knowledge and skills across the whole value chain
  7. To sustain energy and spread the benefits after a strategy workshop. The benefits from a Workshop have a short half-life and soon dissipate unless we build in a process specifically designed to provide continuing support to people well after the Workshop is over.

Probable outcomes of Action Learning

  1. Important problems are solved and learning occurs without additional cost or time
  2. Problems are solved by the people who have to make it happen
  3. The organisation becomes a "learning organisation", more open and flexible
  4. Learning occurs at a deeper level
  5. Group members are supported on a continuing basis
  6. Group members are trained in a questioning technique which is a very useful approach for solving problems and helping them learn
  7. Group members develop a deep understanding of each other and their issues
  8. Group members develop responsibility for their own learning
  9. Group members develop a culture of trust and sharing.

Action learning is different from normal problem-solving because of its emphasis on questions, systems thinking and Appreciative Enquiry.

Why action learning is so valuable

  • Winning organisations need to learn at least as fast as their competitors. However, although we need more and more learning the irony is that we have less and less time to acquire it. Action learning's answer is to learn while doing the work. Action learning is a formula which allows both the work to be performed and learning to occur at the same time. But more than that, the work is performed more successfully than normal.

  • In a very real sense learning occurs without cost or time. Learning is a by-product of solving the problems of the organisation. There are no additional costs or time involved. Training budgets are reduced.

  • Action learning allows the involvement of the entire business (value) chain in the learning process. Traditional leadership training involves plucking people out of departments according to their individual needs rather than the needs of the whole organisation. In action learning people from the entire value chain of the organisation are usually involved because each of these people is required in order to be able to solve the problem. In this process bureaucracy is broken down, people start talking outside the silos, it facilitates the exchange and sharing of ideas and generates new knowledge; internal networks are developed and people become aware of the organisation's resources.

  • When it comes to important problems the best solutions come from focusing several minds on the same problem. Action learning is a group problem solving process with many advantages over other group processes. Research by Ned Herrmann clearly shows that any one person is unlikely to have all the thinking skills required to resolve a difficult problem. For example some people are better at facts, others at process, others at feelings and others at innovation. The best decisions come from groups with diverse thinking preferences as long as the individuals understand their strengths and value other people who are strong where they are weak. Action learning is a process where all thinking skills are represented and as a result the solutions are stronger.

  • Learning is only useful when it is based on real problems and delivered when it is actually needed. In action learning,there is no separation between learning and action. Learning is not delivered in some clinical academic way but in the workplace where real, important and urgent problems need to be solved. Also practitioners rather than teachers are the purveyors of knowledge.

  • Traditional leadership programs use case studies which are like learning by steering someone else's boat looking out to the stern. Examining what happened yesterday will not drive change or make the organisation competitive. Action learning is looking to the future and solving our problems rather than somebody else's.

  • Learning is transferred to the workplace. Under traditional training, very little learning gets transferred to the workplace. Often people go to courses, come back excited, and find there is no support; no one else in the organisation has been through the same experience. It's therefore difficult for them to make the changes required. In action learning all the people involved in the problem are learning at the same time and are able to take away the same lessons and support each other when it comes to implementation.

  • Action learning is particularly useful for organisations that are following a Product Leadership Value Proposition or Customer Intimacy Value Proposition, because these organisations need more innovation. Action learning opens the organisation up from top to bottom and gets it working closer to the edge of order.

There are two types of Action Learning.

Stages of action learning

  1. Formation of the group
  2. Presentation of problem or task to the group
  3. Reframing the problem
  4. Determining goals
  5. Developing action strategies
  6. Taking action
  7. Capturing the learning.

There are six components in Action learning:

  1. the problem
  2. the group
  3. the questions
  4. the actions
  5. the learning
  6. the coach

How Virtual Group supports Action Learning

It's important that the Action Learning Groups are set up properly and that group members have proper training. I have been trained in this technique by a woman we brought out from the UK. I train people with sufficient skills for them to be able to set up and run Action Learning groups throughout the organisation.

  1. We train people in the principles and practice of Action Learning
  2. We work with individuals and groups to establish the beliefs and values required for Action Learning
  3. We act as facilitators until the Action Learning groups are ready to take over the facilitation themselves
  4. We advise in the structural issues and organisational issues that arise with the introduction of Action Learning.

Product support

This product has been developed and is supported by Bruce Holland with help where required from other members of the Virtual Group Business Consultants. Bruce is a specialist in Action Learning Wellington, nationally and internationally. He specialises in public sector Action Learning and other large private sector organisations.


All work undertaken by Bruce Holland is guaranteed. If at the end of the program the client doesn't feel that they have received value for money, they may adjust the bill and pay an amount equal to the value they feel they received.

Facilitation is a core skill, it's what I'm good at, if youd like to know more, give me a call.

Bruce Holland, +6421 620456,

Key words: Leadership, leadership development, leadership management, leadership training, leadership program, leadership skills

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