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Experiences with Action Learning

Tips to make sure Action Learning works for your team.

Recently, in China, Action Learning became a popular leadership program to solve business challenges and problems. Like any new concept which is hot enough for HR who do not want to be seen as out of date it faces many problems. Some HR complain this tool is not that powerful as they thought. Others say this is not more than a normal program or a project. Questions and doubts.

I am a curious and impatient L&D manager too, so I was attracted by the concept of Action Learning when I first saw this advertisement in a marketing article. I immediately bought the book, read it and I am pretty sure I found a treasure. I thought “I must introduce this to my team and make it work in my organization”.

My boss gave me permission to test this concept in China Operations. I was happy to get this chance and send several related articles to China Operation VP and MD’s as an introduction. They reacted enthusiastic and gave me a chance to lead one Action Learning Project and tackle a challenging problem. I reviewed the book again, marked all key points and kicked off my Action Learning journey.

Oh, oh,

My first Action Learning meeting was not very smooth. I put all my effort in it and barely achieved the goal I set. I thought I can relax for a while till the next meeting, but I discovered no one takes the actions we discussed in the meeting. I send several mails to push, no reply….I fall in an agony of doubt.

What did I do wrong? I set each prescribed step, I prepared well for the meeting, I communicated in detail to introduce this concept and ………. Why it is only me acting serious? This is meant to help operations, not me!


I reflected for a long time, going over my assumptions an actions, and realized that not everyone can accept a new concept as fast I do and integrate important tips to make sure Action Learning works.

After many adjustments my first facilitated Action Learning Project goes well and still many improvements after the start 6 months ago. I influenced Call Center and HRS to invite me to co-work with them to use the Action Learning concept to run projects. Now Action Learning in our company is back to track.

My lessons can help your team and organization.

5 Tips

  • Carefully plan how you introduce a new concept and give your audience time to digest

What I did wrong? I send out several mails about the Action Learning concepts and gave a 10 minutes introduction to everyone in a group meeting. My assumption was that when I can understand it, anyone can. ‘Action Learning is a quite simple concept, everyone understands in a second how this works’.

However, I was totally wrong. Directors and managers got a blurred idea about how this exactly works.

My remedy. Arrange several meetings in small groups and explain the concept and answer questions to clear their concerns. In these meetings, I realized how less they gained from my 10 minutes speech earlier. Communication in several steps to reinforce and make sure the audience fully understands.

  • Upper managers support is crucial

I understand this tip and involved upper management from beginning, however, I thought it would be enough when they understand the concept, they do not need to be really involved. But being aware is not enough because the problem we tackle is a business problem, their problem.

So it is better to involve them in the meetings and follow up actions. Upper management should not serve as a symbol but act as a member of the Action Learning Team, otherwise change stops after speaking words of commitment.

  • Carefully select your Action Learning members

I followed the book and realized a diversity in the team. Important, however not enough. In the first meeting some participants did not ask any question, others asked questions leading to complete different topics, others just commented on others asking questions. I could hardly coach that meeting.

My remedy: Select after an introductory meeting project members who have an open-mind and not afraid to ask any question even challenging ones.

  • Prepare your questions before the meeting

This I did really good and saved me from total disaster during the first meeting. I prepared several questions. I ask these questions to inspire others when no one raises a question. This made the meeting go on and buy time for others to think on their questions. These fully prepared questions contributed for 80% to the success of the meeting.

  • Someone with influence should be the leader of the project

I asked a director to be the project leader. I thought that being in the position of a director is enough for this person to take serious action, but that assumption was not realized. He did not take any responsibility, his follow up was weak, showed total lack of leadership and had no confidence. When you want a result of your Action Learning projects, you should carefully choose who will lead.

Someone who is willing to learn new concepts and practices. You need someone who is a change agent and who can influence upper management. My remedy: be at the beginning very specific on what change leader you need: have an open mind and act with impact .


I still feel happy and proud on how I promote Action Learning in my company. It is an ongoing activity. I have to learn a lot, my Action Learning.

If your organization has tried Action Learning either as leadership program or as an approach to solve problems, I am more than happy to learn from your experience.

Even Gong

October 2016

© 2019 TonVoogtConsultancy ~ Recent Update 24-08-2017
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