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Listen to find out why, when an action learning set came to an end, our staff wanted to continue

In this podcast episode we share about an Action Learning Set participated in by Mayvin staff & find out why at the end they wanted to continue.
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In this episode we talk about an Action Learning Set our staff members participated in.

The Mayvin team has grown substantially over the last couple of years. It includes a mix of OD practitioners and those that are not from an OD background. They specialise in other areas such as Operations, Marketing and Business Development.

At the beginning of 2021, we decided to run a development programme for the newest members of the Mayvin team. They are all non-OD practitioners.

The aim of the programme was to assist with their personal practice development and to encourage relationships across the team.  

Our Associate Consultant, the wonderful Cathy Korn, facilitated the programme, which mirrored programmes that we create for our clients. Like our client interventions, this programme:

  • Had no rigid framework – participants decided together what they would explore
  • Involved learning with and through peers
  • Was focused on inquiry not problem solving
  • Contained theory bursts, but only where appropriate to the exploration being undertaken
  • Kept the exploration close to the grain of our real work

At the end of the programme the participants came together to reflect on their experience. They recorded the conversation to share with you and here it is:

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Action Learning Set Podcast Transcript:

Claire Newell 1:26
So what did everyone know about action learning sets? Before we started, what were your expectations of doing the programme?

Debbie Hannan 1:36
Kathy, my expectations were knowing a little with what they do on the Civil Service programmes and how valuable they are. I was just really intrigued as to how that would impact on us as non OD professionals. How that would work for us. And knowing how important those action learning groups were for the you know, Action Learning sets for the participants. And how they've carried on with those that it's had a really good impact for them. Yeah, I was just very intrigued to see how it would work from for us as non OD people.

Charlotte Smith 2:12
Yeah, my my previous experience, expectations are very similar to Debbie's. Having worked on the Virgin Media programme, and just seeing how valuable the action learning sets were. So yeah, I was excited to find out and experience it firsthand.

Claire Newell 2:31
I think me as being kind of quite new to the company. And to be on the marketing side, it was really unknown. I didn't really know what to expect, and what it looked like and what it involved. And probably thought it would be like any other sort of training workshop type thing that you might do at any company. You know, previous companies. I didn't really know what inside the box would look like. And was sort of, probably went with not too much expectations at all of it affecting me and my, my actual work life, if that makes sense.

Katrina Shoesmith 3:01
Yeah, I was the same as you Claire. I didn't have any previous experience. And being newer to the company, I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. Didn't know what to expect at all. I was pleasantly surprised about how much we were able to shape it ourselves. Probably expecting something a bit more formal training being done to us. And I really liked the fact that it evolved, and that we helped it evolve and helped decide the journey.

Claire Newell 3:38
Yeah, and I think, you know. I think Kathy as facilitator, she would draw from theory or models when it was relevant. Whereas yeah l might have expected that we would like so it'd be almost lectured to have like, here's how things should be done. And here's proof and evidence from people. Whereas, as and when it was part of the conversation sheets. Pull out of a hat, a relevant theory or model, rather than it being centred around that. And about that.

Katrina Shoesmith 4:09
What I find really amazing as well is how Kathy doesn't and can't know, our individual roles inside out. And still can apply different models, different theories. And that's obviously something that our consultants do, very quickly understanding enough about the day to day of the participants. I just find that really impressive.

Claire Newell 4:36
And that's where the actual learning set bit comes in. I think, isn't it you don't have to be an accountant or via client coordinator or whatever it might be. It's amazing how little you need to know about the actual role itself to be able to provide insight and advice that's useful. So for me, there's almost like two parts to it.

There was the kind of facilitated directed kind of learning, you know. We looked at things like the balance between being assertive and leaning over to being aggressive. And those kind of useful kind of tools and theories for your personal development. Sort of taking on a adapting and developing your your own practice. But then I guess what I didn't expect was the relationships between us. The kind of the, with not wanting to say it, but like the team bonding. Without wanting to use the phrase team bonding.

Debbie Hannan 5:29
Yeah, absolutely. That was something that really stood out for me. Because I would see feedback from participants saying how much they value the ALS groups. And that they would continue with them. I think all why to have that completely safe forum. Where, you know, the floor is yours for that period of time to say what it is that you want to say. And there's no restrictions, there's no boundaries, you're just saying what it is that you're wanting to say. And you're completely putting all your trust into the people that you're with. You're making yourself vulnerable, and, and you're accepting that, that there's that trust there, even from the start.

And I think that that's quite key in this. Because you need to have that trust in order to make yourself vulnerable in order to say how you're feeling. And to be able to feel safe in getting feedback on that. You know, whether it's challenging feedback. Or whether it's looking at it from a different perspective that you may not have necessarily seen. Because if you've got a challenge that you're dealing with, you tend to be very closed around it through your own perception of that challenge.

So to have perception from three other people over something that you haven't even thought of it. It creates a whole different dimension to what you're bringing into that core. What you're bringing into your air time. And I you just can't put a price on that I just think is it's, it's really, really good. And it has an it's really bonded us as a team. Yeah,

Claire Newell 7:09
It's amazing the range of things that we've brought to the Action Learning Set as well. Like some of it has been quite practical or some has been about our own, like personal development. Or it's been quite a range of that, now have a place to look at and discuss, that's the place you can take those things that are. Some of them have been really, like really important, like really like, this is stopping me from doing my job.

And it's a huge thing. It's a huge boulder in my way. But others have been like little niggles that you haven't actually got around to addressing. And something that you just accept or deal with that actually has come out in the room. And it's been helpful. Or to know that other people have got the same experience or the same struggle as well,

Charlotte Smith 7:48
yeah, I was just gonna say how freeing it felt. To sit and be free to talk about, you know, anything that was playing on your mind. I think working as a as a remote company. And not having those conversations, you know, on the daily, it was just really nice. Sometimes you even go into the Action Learning Set, not really knowing what's going to come up for you. You might have a bit of an idea. But I know there was definitely one or two for me when I went in and I was like, Oh, I don't really know what I'm going to talk about. But you know, as you get going, it's quite freeing. You release things that you didn't really know that was there and that you needed feedback on. And that you needed support.

And also to it's to kind of identify what that is, and what the actions were to take forward. Then just touching on, we didn't need to know each of those roles either in that conversation. But it definitely has brought us together as a team. And it's definitely shown me more about marketing and business development and what's going on in your world. And in the Action Learning Sets are a couple of hours long, but it was just so valuable to know and understand. Yeah, what is what is going on for us individually.

And and and there was a sense of satisfaction in that being able to reach out and probably provide you all with feedback and help you with how you are going to move that subjects along. So yeah, it was the out of the team development programme. For me, the action learning sets were just so vital, and something that I didn't even know that I needed. And I'm just so happy that we're going to be we're going to be continuing that, you know on our own. And yeah,

Claire Newell 9:56
yeah, I hadn't really thought about that but the satisfaction of helping others. Like actually, especially when ups, or new ops are so busy and knew that you guys, you know, were, were struggling and it was really hard work. And I knew how busy you are and didn't really know how or what I could do to help. But then actually, maybe if we were in that room helping a little bit, it was it was nice to know that we were. Yeah, it was just that connection and having that support and knowing that there are people there that, you know, but actually, if we could actually give helpful advice on a practical level as well or not.

Charlotte Smith 10:31
Yeah. And I think that with Ops have been busy. I think people think that to help out is to take on a task or do a specific thing. Like, oh, let me take that off you I'll do that today. When, when really, for me, definitely the support that I was looking for, throughout the busy times, were those conversations. To know that I had everybody else's support. And, and the feedback was just fantastic. Just to see it from a different a different perspective. And that really supported me.

Debbie Hannan 11:12
Just having that release of the pressure valve isn't it that can build up. It's, it's Yeah, being able to relieve that a little.

Katrina Shoesmith 11:23
It's validating as well. It's really validating to be given that airtime. And not only do you not need to understand someone's job role to help by listening. Actually, it kind of helps when you don't fully understand. You know, know their day to day because it's sort of irrelevant. You're to leave all that mess behind for an hour. And select that one thing to bring to your action learning set.

It's like it's really special. It's a really special space. And it's actually quite helpful to say, well, this is the one thing that I've selected, if you know what you're coming with. When people don't do your role, they ask questions. And the questions can be really helpful. answering the questions and explaining the problem can help one think it through?

Claire Newell 12:20
Yeah, almost without all the noise, the background noise and the kind of the mess,

Katrina Shoesmith 12:24
and just to be heard is

Claire Newell 12:27
focus on that one thing. Yeah.

Katrina Shoesmith 12:29
You don't need you're not necessarily coming in looking for solutions from your colleagues. You're looking for an exploratory conversation, and you're looking for thoughtful questions that you wouldn't maybe have thought to ask.

Charlotte Smith 12:49
Yeah, and in the day to day working life, there's there's not always that time for those conversations. So yeah, just going back to then having that time. And it is special that you have that air time to speak about something. And it is it is the one thing that you bring into those conversations. But I think I noticed how that one thing was connected to so many other things. That also, you know, helps me on. And any, like a personal development that link to just a whole bigger picture.

Claire Newell 13:30
Yeah, yeah. That's so true. And it was connected, like quite a bit would be connected to what we've done in the programme. Yeah. So it might be about worrying that you might come across as aggressive in how you handle that situation, when actually by not being assertive. Yeah, like it, sometimes it links back to what we've been doing in the programme.

Charlotte Smith 13:52
Yeah. And I just felt so safe in that space. There was, we were, we were free to say, you know, whatever was on our minds. And free to explain, take the take the time to explain what we really meant, and really get to the bottom of it. And that naturally just builds trust with it within within the team, doesn't it? I think we're all a lot closer now. And know what's going on day to day, that that's something again, that I needed that I didn't even know that I needed.

Claire Newell 14:33
And that's pretty much what didn't have in the air time that you have air time that is your time. You can always free, free talk free think uninterrupted and then invite questions. And that's quite unique that because if you've got a question at work, you know, it's not a case of like emailing someone or chatting them or like I've got this problem. When you start talking. Sometimes you haven't quite identified what the problem is or what you're asking even. There's just this thing that is bugging me or that. And actually, by having that kind of that that airtime or uninterrupted air time for you to just ramble and talk and get it out. It sometimes it got clearer as you spoke didn't it?

Katrina Shoesmith 15:14
Also a really productive way of looking at challenges. If you compare it to. Without an action learning set, you're either going to not address the challenge, or you might take it to your line manager. And it's a great way for line managers to empower their reports, to think things through in the action learning set. A lot of the time, you don't need to take something higher, after you've talked it through an action learning set.

And if you do decide to refer back, when you're talking with your managers, you come with a much more fleshed out conversation and point of view. And a much more considered. You can have a much more considered conversation and it and it really shifts the, the sort of power back to the individual.

Because it's not just a case of an individual taking a challenge to their manager and asking for answers. That's very transactional and not very empowering. Where within action learnings you can you have the benefit of all the opinions and all the all the perspectives. And you can then go on to have a really productive look at that challenge. You know, it doesn't end at the end of the call. I suppose, is what I'm saying at the end of the action learning set, you can then take it forward with a much more established view of what it is you're up against.

Claire Newell 17:01
I think you're right. And I think that's from it from a manager or or leaders point of view. enabling an action learning set means that like I said, you're you're you're empowering your staff, giving them a safe place and the things that we've talked about, but actually, practically, as a manager, they might be coming to you with less because they've worked it out themselves.

They've workshopped it with their peers, rather than having to come because you're right in a company that's usually the natural order of things, if you've got something a problem or challenges, something to discuss, the natural order of things is to take it to your line manager and take it up the chain. Whereas this enables you to have that conversation amongst the team. And not only does that mean yeah, the team are more connected and know more about each other's roles. But practically, I guess, yeah, managers need a little bit less stuff coming up their way.

Katrina Shoesmith 17:48
And the stuff they do get is much more considered.

Claire Newell 17:51
And much more thought through and clarified.

Katrina Shoesmith 17:53
And it's also a, it's a good entry point to the conversation. It's a lot if you're if there's something that you're reluctant or vulnerable, feeling vulnerable to bring to your manager, it's a lot easier to start the conversation with: We discussed this in the action learning set. This is what I brought to my action learning set. And these are the opinions that people had about it. And you can sort of blame it on everybody else.

Claire Newell 18:19
And that's something we talked about, wasn't it? Because I kind of thought, what do you do with it after the room like so you have these these great conversations in the room. And then it's quite important what where it goes, what happens to it afterwards. It might be it doesn't go anywhere, it doesn't need to it, you know, it's been resolved or it's or it might need more discussion and like so then, but then you might take it to your manager, or and we talked about that at one point, didn't we? And risk of this could be if things stayed in the room.

Katrina Shoesmith 18:52
There's something about the fact that for in our case, there's four of us in our action learning set. And there's something about the fact that four people have blocked out an hour of their precious work time in their calendar to gather together in an action learning set. That really helps stop it from just being a forum for moaning and venting, because I think you naturally respect other people's time.

And you want to make sure that everyone is glad that they use the hour for for the action learning set and not to crack on with their work because everybody's really busy. I think yeah, that's that's what seems to stop it from becoming overly negative and keeps it really constructive is the fact that it's booked in and it's planned. And you're taking your time out of your day. So you want to make sure that and we know how much we get from it. And you want to come away with that. Don't you want to come away with that great constructive feeling, and you want to give that to other people. So I think that keeps it positive.

Claire Newell 20:10
Yeah, and that's, that's pretty what's different to it being that kind of, you know while you are making a cup of tea in the kitchen or around the water cooler kind of moment is defined safe space with a carved out time with their time with a structure slightly structured to it, and it. Yeah, and therefore it's, it's, it's much more constructive.

Katrina Shoesmith 20:29
And also, you're coming with, you know, I'm trying to do something here, I'm trying to achieve x, but I'm having problems with why. And so there's that momentum already, there's that energy of, I do want to achieve something, I'm not just as you say, by the water cooler having a chat. There's a real purpose

Claire Newell 20:52
and personal development, you know, and I think, you know. Mayvin is encouraged us to develop and work on our own our own practice, and to look at that, and be aware of that. And, and that's also what that space is about is it might be I'm trying to achieve x we're struggling with y. And the y might might be personal or it might not.

Charlotte Smith 21:12
Even when you have the airtime and you are talking, it's funny how sometimes you're answering your your own question in a way more things start to come up, it just becomes clearer for you. And that's, yeah, it just becomes it just becomes clearer. And it connects to other things that gives you that - going to be very Oprah Winfrey now. But that kind of like aha moment, gives you the sound yourself the time to think things through as well.

Because it's so easy just to get on with the next task or you know, there's an issue here, how am I going to solve it? Okay, well, I think about it later, but carving out that time, it just gives you that time to breathe. The kind of we're encouraged to do the look out the window exercise. But But obviously, with the action learning set, you are with others as well, giving you that extra little bit of feedback and further deeper conversation.

Claire Newell 22:16
Yes, it's always like saying the first part is always when you're uninterrupted air time is almost like an extended, staring at the window, like actually addressing your own thoughts and looking at it that you might not otherwise spend time looking at something, but then you then get the the add on at the end of other people's perspectives and views and advice

Charlotte Smith 22:36
and questions as well. Questions, dig in that little bit deeper? About what what you said this? And what did you actually mean by that, you know, you really get the chance to dig, dig deeper.

Katrina Shoesmith 22:51
I know for me, there's something where my assumptions are challenged. So if I have a if I have a an issue or a challenge that I'm dealing with, I've kind of made up my mind about it and made up my mind about why it's difficult or why it's impossible or why it's not going to work. And that's natural, right? Because the brain I don't have, you know, I don't have time to spend my whole week thinking about one challenge.

My brain wants to decide what it thinks of something and get on with the rest of my day. And then I bring it to the action learning set. I bring my assumptions. And in a few simple questions my assumptions are challenged, and it breaks that cycle of of oh, issue, okay, and here's what I think about it, and it just turns it on its head and shines a light on things.

Claire Newell 23:48
Yeah, and the brain wants to take shortcuts, the brain wants to not make work. So that's where stereotypes and assumptions and everything comes from, and previous experience and all that you know, plays a part in how that develops.

Katrina Shoesmith 24:02
And you're giving your brain the space and the time to not need it shortcuts for a little while for a few minutes just to remove the shortcuts and the assumptions.

Claire Newell 24:14
Today, we've had a facilitator, we've had an OD consultant in the room, but our programme is is has come to an end. So we've decided like we've just been saying how invaluable the Action Learning Set has been for us and how we really keen to carry on. So that's gonna be our next challenges is carving out that space and doing it justice when we don't have a consultant in the room. You respect that date in the diary a bit more when there's someone external there. I think especially when you're busy and you've got or you've got something on your desk that need to get finished that day.

You're just not in that kind of frame of mind that day. It's very easy, I think to say oh shoot, we miss this one shall we push it back, let's do another day. We're all quite busy. Let's, let's push it back. So I think that's going to be one of our challenges going forward is is is to not do that and treat it the same as we have been. And knowing that it is important to carve out that time. And that's something that when you're at the, at the coal face, and you're busy, and you've got a million things to do and stepping back for these these conversations and these kinds of non task related meetings. I think Mayvin's very good at having carving out those spaces to do that. But it can be difficult.

Charlotte Smith 25:40
I hope and I feel that while I'm confident that we will, we will do this. And we will meet at the times that we say because I think we have respect for each other now. And it's it's also not just about you, when you go into these action learning sets, we're going to be there for each other and I might not have something top of mind to speak about or anything to to urgent. But I want to be there and I want to show up for you guys if you have other things to go through. So I think that that's going to be how I'll look at it moving forward. Yeah.

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