Action learning sets - Swindon Chapter

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Posted by APM on 15th Jul 2011

Phil Palmer, Chairman of Swindon Chapter is always looking for new types of events for local members, so when Lorna Dixon suggested Action Learning Sets (ALS) they set about organising an event for Swindon.

As far as Phil is aware the APM had not run anything like this locally before. ALS provides a forum for personal development where participants bring to a group meeting on a regular basis particular challenges of the moment. Supported by a facilitator, those presenting will be encouraged to view issues from a variety of perspectives and develop a new action plan to take away and apply. The event was arranged in two parts and participants had to attend both:

  • The first session explored formats for groups, the role of facilitator, presenter and participants, and skills which enhance the value to be gained from ALS. In other words the theory and some practise.
  • The second session two weeks later was an ALS facilitated by our host Charlotte Mannion.

Charlotte has been working with APM since last summer as part of the team developing the RPP standards and has been responsible for the delivery of all the soft skills training for the new RPP assessors. She is an expert on Action Learning and provided excellent guidance to the group.

Nine people registered for the event and although everyone had probably seen some of the others at previous events, no one knew everyone. Anyone who has come across Tuckmans Group Development theory (forming, storming, norming, performing) will know that discussing personal challenges at a first team meeting is probably unwise. The first session was more about getting to know the other people. The second session was where the ALS took place.

The challenge owner explains the situation to the group who then ask open and non-leading questions and certainly do not give advice. However for everyone present the solution to the challenge owners problem was obvious and we immediately offered advice and/or asked leading questions! This is where Charlottes experience helped as she was able to suggest ways to ask the question so that the challenge owner could resolve the challenge themselves.

There was only enough time to discuss three challenges and as the meeting was held under Chatham House Rules, none of the contents of the discussions can be disclosed outside of the group. Everyone agreed however that it was an excellent way to discuss challenges and to help with personal development. One participant said that what had seemed like a huge personal issue wasnt such a big deal and has since resolved it satisfactorily.

Although it was key to have independent facilitation at this stage, there was general agreement that at the norming/performing steps of development the group would be able to become self facilitating. An ALS would normally stay in place for some time meeting on a regular basis i.e. monthly but mainly for geographical reasons this group has decided not to meet again although some of the group might meet to follow up on the issues raised. Most participants said they would try and start groups up at their places of work.

Overall everyone felt this was a successful event and that Action Learning deserves a place in the toolkit of learning solutions in a projects organisation. The Swindon Chapter would be interested to hear the outcomes of any other Chapters/Branches/Special Interest Groups pursuing ALS events.

Posted in Thames Valley
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