Action Learning for Managers

Mumford (1997) reports that the most suitable form of learning for managers is a group David Shawlearning process; best for knowledge, skills and insights.  Learning from other managers’ problems, challenges and situations appears to result in more action!  Often I’ve noticed that managers learn more from one another over meals on formal training courses than they ever do in the classroom.  How can this reality be harnessed to help managers learn in the most effective way about management?

An action learning set is one such approach to group learning. Groups of 5 – 7 managers meet regularly to develop their management skills.  At each meeting a number of group members take 5-10 minutes to present a live issue with which they are grappling.  Interestingly advice is not given.  What is given are questions about the situation or issue, who, what, where, when, why, how questions that enable the issue owner to develop a deeper insight to his or her situation.  The questioners learn by analysing a live issue, reflecting on their own issues, deep listening and hearing about how others intend to take action to improve situations.  The meetings are run by an experienced facilitator who will ensure that advice is not given and that the group stays on track towards working on identifying action.  At further meetings members present the results of the actions they have taken.

If this is, in reality, how managers learn best about management, why is it not used more often?

Would you find an action learning set a viable way to learn more about management?  What would need to be true for you to make a set work?  Perhaps you’ve been a member of a set and have some comments to make?  All thoughts on this approach would be welcome.

I raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK – a very small donation at would be most appreciated.

2 thoughts on “Action Learning for Managers

  1. This context of coaching, teaching and discussing how you think in different situations rather than what to think is currently very topical to me. Given my whole coaching methodology is now based on it. After I read about how Professor Clayton Christensen of disruptive innovation fame came to the same conclusion. If you can assist somebody to learn how to think then there are far more likely to be able to discover the ‘what to think’ for themselves the next time IT happens.


    1. Many thanks for your comments John. In many ways it’s the difference between school and classroom-based teaching and how adults actually learn. Action learning sets are focused on the process of learning ie. the how rather than the what as you point out. Very often just getting people into a room and letting them talk to one another is all that is required! The simpler the processes we use – probably the more effective we will be with our adult clients.


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