Engagement Action Learning

What is an Engagement Explosion Action Learning Set?

Action Learning is an educational process where people work and learn together by tackling real issues and reflecting on their actions.

Participants acquire knowledge through taking action and reflecting on what they did and what happened rather than through theory or instruction.

Action Learning is done with others, in small groups called action learning sets.

It enables each person to reflect on and review the action they have taken and the learning points arising. This should then guide future action and improve performance. It is a bit like group coaching.

Each participant talks about a real problem they are tackling. The group explores that issue through listening and questioning, rather than giving advice or proposing solutions drawn on their own experience.

Through questioning, the participant often reassesses the issue itself and commits to a new course of action to resolve the newly discovered angle on the issue.

The key values of a successful Action Learning Set are very similar to the principles of employee engagement: telling your story; actively listening to the stories of others; giving equal voice and attention to everyone in the group; being real and acting with integrity and honesty.

The group is in control of how often it meets. You choose where you meet and for how long.

You can therefore make it low cost, time efficient and real. Your manager and your organisation is likely to favour this form of learning over other more expensive options.

What might a typical session look like?

Check in, catch up, reflect on action from last time

Agree agenda for the session and bid for time at the meeting

Agree values and behaviours, e.g. mutual respect

Agree confidentiality, ie what’s said in the room, stays in the room

Work on individual issues in turn ( through AL process of reflection, questioning and identifying action)

Supporters offer presenter their reflections, or observations (optional)

End of session review – how well did we work together today?


Join with 4-5 others in your workplace, organisation, or different organisations in your town or city or in your Area Network group and work together, using Action Learning principles, to create an Engagement Explosion in your workplaces.

Expectations and Outcomes

Before joining an Action Learning Set, people can feel the group will just be pooling ignorance about an issue they don’t really understand. During the first couple of sessions, some participants relish discussing an issue, whilst others feel uncomfortable being questioned and challenged.

After the first series of sessions and after reflecting on what has been said and taking action as a result, many participants feel they have moved considerably in their learning and thinking, and wonder they didn’t use this means of learning before. The benefits can be considerable, both to the individual and the organisation. Through regular practice, participants are improving their problem solving skills through questioning and listening.

What individuals learn about themselves and the new resolve and purpose they can get from discussing issues through with other participants can radically and surprisingly amplify their ability to make progress and their impact on their organisation in bringing change. Not only can participation increase ‘self-awareness’, but it can also help the organisation move from a ‘telling’ organisation to an ‘asking’ organisation, from a ‘we don’t do it that way’ to a ‘how can we change so we can’ organisation.

15 Questions to get you started 

  1. What’s really working in my organisation in terms of employee engagement?
  2. What’s the best idea I’ve heard about in another organisation and what would it look like where I work?
  3. How does my organisation measure up against the Four Enablers?
  4. What do I need to do to close the gap?
  5. How do I get my top team on board?
  6. How do I galvanise my middle managers into action?
  7. Who can we influence in our organisations?
  8. What evidence can I use to persuade my organisation that employee engagement is what we need?
  9. How do I change the culture of my organisation into a more engaging one?
  10. How do I get apathetic staff to change their behaviour?
  11. How do I build trust in my organisation?
  12. How do I formulate an employee engagement strategy for my organisation?
  13. How do I increase staff commitment to our vision for our organisation?
  14. How can I make our organisation a more fun place to work?
  15. How can I make our organisation somewhere people want to work?

How to get the best from your Action Learning set

Meeting up

  • Agree the number of times you are going to meet, where, and over what time scale
  • Give each participant equal time to explain their issue and equal effort to help them take the next step in solving it

Your issue

  • Bring a real issue that you are working on to the group
  • Be honest, about your issue, what you are trying to do, the successes and failures you have had, why you are bringing the problem to the group, the help you need, whether you are willing to do something different, something you haven’t thought of before, something uncomfortable
  • Listen actively to the questions you are asked, respond and reflect there and then
  • Be open to both support and challenge
  • Set aside time for further reflection after the session. Commit to take action, and to reflect on the results of that action
  • Be prepared to share honestly with the group next time

Helping others with their issues

  • Be respectful of each other; do not dismiss issues you consider aren’t a problem for you
  • Listen to each participant’s problem, and try to help them using questions. Seek clarification if you don’t understand the question
  • Listen and question; resist the impulse to give advice

Do you want/need a facilitator?

You don’t need a facilitator to make an Action Learning Set work, but some groups find it helpful to have someone who can kickstart the group, help integrate the group members, or just keep the show on the road by organising the group, and during the meeting capturing the group’s thinking and help them plan the next action they are going to take. Once a group has become integrated, experienced, and is seeing results, the less likely they are to need a facilitator.

If you would like a facilitator, please email info@engageforsuccess.org, and we will try to link you up with someone who can help.

What’s the difference between an ALS and a project team?

As you work together with others, you may decide you all want to work together delivering a particular project. At this point your Action Learning Set will need to change how it operates, and it is important to recognise and agree this so all members are comfortable with the change, and talk through what roles, skills and working methods you want to adapt. You may still want to continue with Action Learning, but it will be important to separate put these two ways of operating as a group.


Please give us feedback on your Action Learning Set. Tell us your story about what you are learning.

Tell us how we can improve this page and what else you would like to know, by emailing info@engageforsuccess.org

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