How Action Learning Addresses Various Organizational Issues with Long-term Impacts


This time, I have four articles to share. Each article addresses a different issue with potenially adverse long-term consequences for organizational sustainability. The first article, "To Change Your Strategy, First Change how You Think (," discusses how effective organizational transformations are the result of a combination of mental, business, and measurement models. To make real and lasting changes, according to the author, leaders need to change how they think before changing how they conduct their businesses and what measurements to look for. In short, mental models play a sustaintial role in determining the long-term success of organizations.

Following a similar cognitive thread, the second article, "How You define the Problem Determines Whether You Solve It (," argues that most of the creative solutions to orgnaizational problems were actually the result of a rather straightforward and highly cost-effective approach: "finding a solution inside the collective memory of the people working on the problem." Since the key to the effectiveness of this approach is the capture of the right information out of the memory, the framing of the problem provides the critical cue to the relevant memory. But there is no ideal problem statement: some could be specific; others could be abstract or focusing on the relationships among the elements involved. 

The third one, "How Tribalism Hurts Companies, and What to Do About It (," talks about how tribalism damages teams and organizations, and what could be done about it. When people within the same company are at cross-purposes with their colleagues, resources and energy are wasted, to say the least; in the worst case scenario, the future of the company could even be in jeopardy! The author offers four tips to address the phenomenon; furthrmore, emphazies that the human dynamics at play must be actively managed.

The focus of the last article, "High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here's How to Create It (," is on psychological safety (PS) which is shown to underpin the highest-performing teams in a massive two-year study conducted at Google. PS is "the belief that you won't be punished when you make a mistake"; encourages " modest risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off - just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs"; and enhances "higher levels of engagment, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, more learning and development, and better performance." Indeed, "positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological, social, and physical resources."

So what do the issues addressed in these four articles have to do with Action Learning? In two words: A lot! According to Marquardt, being a dynamic and interactive process, AL allows the team members to gain fresh perspectives on both the problem and potential solutions (2004). Moreover, the diversity of questions asked in AL "creates solid systems thinking in which the group sees the whole rather than parts, relationships rather than linear cause-effect patterns, underlying structures rather events, and profiles of changes rather than snapshots" (Marquardt, 2004: 15-16). The AL process, therefore, challenges our current mental models and tends to reframe the problem statement in a more relevant and revealing way. At the same time, the AL process develops extremely cohesive and high-performing teams (Marquardt, 2004). In working on the problem, the team members (with diverse perspectives, experineces, and backgrounds) are expected to share clear responsibility and accountability, constantly question and listen to each other, openly share their learnings gained, and follow team norms; the corollary is that team unity and success are ecouraged and expected (Marquardt, 2004). Because of the nature of the AL process, tribalism will not be an issue and the team members are bounded by trust, respect, and openness; consequently, the organization will have a much better chance of tapping into the hidden potentials of the staff for the its long-term viability. AL is a powerful process and tool, indeed. 


Marquardt, MJ (2004) Optimizin the Power of Action Learning: Solving Problems and Building Leaders in Real time. Boston, Ma: Davies-Black