Action Learning: Collaborative problem-solving

What is Action Learning?

Action Learning allows people to gather knowledge in a group setting as they try to find a solution to a problem or an approach to an opportunity. It’s a method that combines creative thinking and collaboration. It brings together people with diverse experiences to work on a problem together and workshop possible solutions. In these sessions, people use insightful questions, reflective listening, and pooled experience. And, crucially, they develop some concrete actions that can be taken.

How does it work versus coaching or mentoring?

I’m a coach and a mentor, so of course I extol their virtues too! But they’re useful for different purposes, and what you need at one point in your life is different to what you need at another. Coaching and mentoring are usually 1:1, but team coaching also exists. Like coaching, Action Learning relies on incisive questioning to produce insight. However, team coaching sessions tend to focus on team dynamics and their problem-solving approach. Action Learning sessions tend to do the actual problem-solving.

What’s the benefit?

Quite how Action Learning sessions run varies, whether they’re one-off or involve a long-term working relationship between the group. But what I like about them most is the opportunity for reflective listening. In most problem-solving conversations the person who ‘owns’ the problem tends to have some fixed thought patterns that can be limiting. It’s easy to dismiss possible solutions because they don’t fit those patterns, or the usual pattern of behaviours the person uses in their work environment. We all have our favourite problem-solving approaches!



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EDI consultant and project manager; Transformational and career development coach; Writer of many things; Runner. In no particular order.