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Boulden Executive Coaching

Group Coaching (Action Learning) - Personal Development

Action Learning based Skills Development

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Developing superior knowledge, skill and attitudes through tackling real life ‘problems’

Executive summary

This six month programme is for people who want to develop their skills so that they can reach their full potential as a leader, manager, technical expert or consultant.

The work is based on the Action Learning Philosophy, developed by Professor Reg Revans. At the heart of Action Learning is the idea that people learn best from (i) trying things out in real life situations and (ii) sharing the results of their efforts with a peer-coaching group, who provide support, advice, guidance and encouragement.

The programme is in seven parts:

  1. A needs assessment stage, where each participant identifies a ‘real life’ challenge, issue or problem that they need to overcome if they are to move up a gear in terms of their performance.
  2. After the development needs are defined each participant selects or is assigned a “client” (who can be the participants line manager) whose role it is to take a special interest in their progress.
  3. The participants are then placed in a peer-coaching group (or ‘Action Learning Set’) of six to nine people and they attend a half-day ‘Launch Workshop.’ During this session the key concepts of Action Learning are introduced and training is given in techniques that will support the participants as they make changes to the way they do things in their workplace (e.g. coaching skills).
  4. Over the next six months the members of the peer-coaching group (or Set) work on resolving their personal development needs while sharing their experiences with their team members. To speed up self-awareness, psychometric personality profiles such as MBTI can be used. As they develop themselves the participants attend a monthly Action Learning meeting where they support and challenge each other.
    This meeting is facilitated by the Boulden consultant, who provides additional guidance and mentoring to the Set members.
  5. A half-day ‘Demonstrating Value Session’ during which the participants are helped to design powerful closing presentations that encapsulate their achievements over the previous six months.
  6. A half-day ‘Closure Workshop’ at which the participants formally present the impact that the programme has had on them to their Clients and other stakeholders and the success of the initiative is assessed.
  7. The initiative ends with the BMC consultants summarising the presentations made on the closure workshop and preparing a final report on the programme outcomes.

Engagement outcomes

This programme uses the Action Learning Philosophy to develop knowledge skills and attitudes in a tailored yet systematic way.


Action Learning - Group coaching based skills development

Initial Needs Assessment

The programme begins with an initial needs assessment, where each participant identifies a ‘real life’ challenge, issue or problem that they need to address if he/she is to move up a gear in terms of his or her performance. The needs can be self generated by each participant, or it can be agreed informally as part of discussion with a consultant or mentor. It can also be done formally as part of an output from a development centre or performance appraisal process. Alternatively the needs definition might focus on a business initiative e.g. the challenge involved in implementing a restructure or leading a change management programme. The Boulden consultant will give detailed advice on which of these approaches should be adopted.

Assigning ‘Clients’

An important aspect of Action Learning is that each participant either chooses a ‘Client’ or has one assigned to them. The Client is a senior manager (who can be the person’s line manager) that takes a personal interest in the way that the participant (or ‘fellow’ in Action Learning jargon) is progressing as they work on their issue or challenge. In AL they are described as a person who “knows, cares and can.” That is they know about the issues being addressed; care that they are dealt with and can intervene (if necessary) to make things happen e.g. to remove roadblocks.

The Launch Workshop - half-day

The Launch Workshop is designed to clarify the Action Learning philosophy; allow participants to review and refine their goals; build a sense of team work and trust. The content includes:

  • The Action Learning Philosophy
  • The Action Learning Equation
  • The elements of an Action Learning programme
  • Refining the goals for the programme
  • How to run a Set Meeting
  • Typical agenda for an Action Learning meeting
  • House rules and their impact on the Set
  • Making the best use of the Set Advisor
  • Working with the ‘Client’

Action Learning Meetings - Six months

The Set Members (or fellows) work to address their personal development issues that have been identified during the needs analysis phase.

As they work on their ‘development needs’ they meet once a month for six months with a BMC Set Advisor. As they attend these meetings the set members discuss their progress and as they do so they mentor, challenge, coach and advise one another.

The intense listening and complete focus that set members give one another as they present their issues, and the questions that arise in response to what has (or has not) been said, creates a powerful development experience and provides a strong impetus to new action. By ‘learning with and from’ one another in this way the group strengthen and hone their ability to make changes to the way they do things in the real world of work and develop their skills. The role of the Boulden Set Advisor is to support the participants and ensure that personal learning points are developed and explored. The BMC Set Advisor will also (if appropriate) recommend specific reading, administer psychometric profiles and/or run micro training sessions on topics requested by the group.

During this time Set Members should also keep in contact with their Clients who can give them additional assistance and insights as they develop their capabilities.

Demonstrating Value - half-day

Towards the end of the six month long Action Learning phase there is a half-day ‘Demonstrating Value Coaching Session’ during which the participants are given ‘pre work’ to help them design their closing presentations. These presentations should clearly show how (i) they as individuals and (ii) the organisation as a whole, have gained from the Action Learning process. They then practise their talks and are given advice on making their delivery compelling and charismatic.

Closure Workshop - half-day

At the end of the six months each participant writes a one-page report on how they have developed their capabilities during the Action Learning process. They then present these reports at a half-day closure workshop to the Client group. The success of the programme is then discussed and the Action Learning initiative is formally ‘closed’.

Closure Report

The Boulden consultant collates the individual presentations made by the programme participants during the closure workshop and creates a summary report that captures the outcomes of the initiative and highlights the key learning points. It also captures the return on investment of the programme.


Virtual Action Learning Meetings

We can, if appropriate, run Action Learning programmes on a remote basis, either through telephone conferencing or (where the technology infrastructure permits), through video conferencing. This method allows people from different locations, countries’ and regions to participate in the ‘group coaching based’ development programme in a way that would not be practical using face to face meetings.

Expert Consultants

In our Action Learning work we offer experienced professionals with proven business backgrounds – not novice consultants. We are members of the International Foundation for Action Learning (IFAL) and so have access to the latest research in the field.

Our experts who facilitate these Action Learning sessions regularly deal with senior managers across a range of industries and are commercially focused and pragmatic. They are also open, honest and prepared to challenge the status quo.

Briefing note: The Action Learning Philosophy

Action Learning, as developed by Professor Reg Revans, is based on the concept of:

L= P+Q

This means that Learning [L] is based on Programmed Knowledge [P] (the things that can be taught) plus Questioning Skills [Q] (the ability to apply what has been taught to ‘messy’ real life problems) across a wide range of situations. So advocates of Action Learning believe that people learn best from:

  • Trying things out in practice and reflecting on what happens as a result of their
    actions and why
  • Structured counselling in real work situations
  • Regularly sharing the experience with those who are also learning by doing

There are a variety of formats for Action Learning and the “Own Job” version that is recommended here is used to build a bridge between a development opportunity, and the challenge of changing behaviour and improving performance in the ‘real world’. This means that delegates are placed in a peer-coaching group (or ‘Set’) of six to nine people and asked to carry out a six month long “project” based on developing their knowledge, skills and attitudes so that they can raise their performance to a higher level. As each participant works to develop their skills he/she meets his/her fellow course participants, once a month, over a six-month period.

The Set members provide each other with advice and guidance in these group coaching sessions and in doing so they learn with and from each other. To further strengthen this ‘learning by doing’ process, a BMC consultant facilitates these monthly sessions and provides additional support to the Set Members. The learning and development that takes place in an Action Learning Set is (by its very nature) tailor made to the needs of each individual person and to the requirements of the organisation. In addition, by emphasising individual initiative, plus group support, it greatly enhances the self-confidence and self-reliance of the participants.



Further information is available by contacting Boulden at:
Tel: 0844 394 8877


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brochure for the Action Learning based Skills Development programme
  • Focusing on resolving a ‘real life’ issue
  • Mentoring from a peer group who are also tacking their own ‘problem’ or challenge
  • Guidance, to the whole group, from an expert coach

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