Many organisations aspire to become what Peter Senge (1990) described as ‘learning organisations’, where its members develop, adapt and challenge themselves to perform better and create better work environments.

There are many steps, approaches, activities and processes needed to achieve such an organisation. One such activity and process is the introduction of Action Learning (AL).

Many organisations have ‘tinkered’ with the use of AL, but few have ever had it as an embedded method of learning. In doing so they miss out on the power and outcomes it can achieve.

What is AL?

The concept originated by Reg Revans back in the 1940’s. He believed that organisations’ rate of learning had to at least equal its rate of change in its external environment. This later became known as Revan’s Law.

Revans created AL as a very simply a process where several people bring their own real time topics, challenges or opportunities to group sessions called the Action Learning Set (ALS).

Over time each member presents their own topic to the Set and the Set members use their collective knowledge and experience to ask questions, share examples and add experience in order to help the presenting member gain clarity, direction or action on their topic. The Set do not tell or instruct the presenting member, nor does the member have to take any one thing from the Set.

After the Set, the member goes away puts actions of their own choosing in place and then shares their learning with the Set the next time they meet.

The value of AL

So, what is the value of AL to employees, teams and the organisation?


  • Requires no real expertise to set up and run – anyone can pretty much set them up and run them (but effectiveness is improved with good training)
  • Helps Set members develop listening, questioning, critical thinking and collaboration all within a psychologically safe environment.
  • Can lift employees thinking to be more strategic.
  • Enables and enhances personal and group reflection.
  • Can enable a more systemic thinking amongst individuals.


  • Develop group and teamwork through active participation together.
  • Helps teams and groups become a stronger and agile problem-solving entity.
  • Enables teams to work more closely together in a learning focused way.
  • Can be built into supporting leadership development programmes.
  • Cross-organisational Sets bring collaboration, networking and trust.
  • Can inform the culture at a team or organisational level.


  • Develops staff engagement and involvement.
  • Helps organisations solve real time issues.
  • Can bring different levels of leaders and manager to work together in a collaborative format.
  • Can enable change and problems solving to be kept internally and therefore at reduced cost to organisations.
  • Great for supporting a learning culture.
  • Where organisations are going through structural and disruptive change, cross organisational ALS can be a mechanism that helps employees solve their own particular change challenges with others who are experiencing the same. In doing so it can bring different areas of the business together.

AL and Coaching

In many ways AL overlaps with coaching. They are both about employees bringing something to the table to deal with. Then rather than be told a solution they work on it with those present. It’s about learning, growth and development, becoming more resourceful and able to solve their own problems.

Both are core elements to building a learning culture, and AL can be a great activity to consider where there are not enough coaching resources to be spread across the organisation.

By their nature, both AL and coaching relies on good questioning, listening, relationships and collaboration.

Yet, AL in some ways is broader than coaching because it involves several people in the questioning and collaboration process. This does not mean that AL is the same as team coaching. In team coaching there is one coach helping a team of people work through some shared issues. In an ALS there is a facilitator who manages the Set, but the whole group is asking questions, listening and sharing to help the one member who is presenting their own issue and the members take turns in presenting issues.

The importance of good AL skills and behaviours

The effectiveness and impact of ALS is dependent on the skills and behaviours of all the members in the ALS. In particular the Set facilitator, who must understand the ALS process well and needs to be good at managing the Set to create a psychologically safe environment. The facilitator is responsible for ensuring that the members are asking helpful questions and listening well, that they don’t stray into telling the presenting member what to do and that they all reflect and learn from the process. In time the need for a facilitator may diminish as the Set members learn how to engage in the ALS themselves.

Quiver Management has significant experience in training ALS facilitators for a wide range of purposes, from mentors facilitating peer business networking groups, to managers facilitating cross-organisational collaboration, and specialists facilitating sessions around new ways of working in a large organisation.

You can see more about our inhouse Action Learning Facilitator training.

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