Instead of carrying out simple, highly specialized and repetitive routines that have been prefigured (i.e., figured out for them by others), the work of many people now requires of them that they figure out what to do. Their work routines are configured, not prefigured. "Figuring out what to do," by its rightful name, is known as problem solving. The problem solving process underlies all deliberate, goal-oriented behavior. It is the core competency for all human beings, and the core process for all organizations. (Fred Nickols, 2000)
The nature of Action Learning forces people to think of solutions outside of the way it has always been done.
“Dr. Bea is a terrific action learning coach. She is especially talented in enabling a group to understand themselves and the problem better. Bea truly builds a culture of learning and sharing amongst the participants.”
A typical action learning session starts with the coach establishing the ground rules; the two most critical ones being: 1) statements can only be made in response to questions, and 2) the coach has ultimate power. The meaning of this latter one is that when the coach intervenes in the problem solving to work on the learning, everyone stops and focuses on the coaches questions; the problem solving does not resume until the coach gives permission. One person states the problem the group needs to work on in two to three minutes. The time limit on this is to prevent the team members from being led down a specific path.
At this point the problem solving begins, team members asking questions of the person who presented the problem and of each other, as well as the presenter asking questions. With each question the seeds of the solution are planted. The coach listens for opportunities to help the group function more effectively as a team.
Two opportunities the coach looks for are: 1) when things are going astray, or 2) when things are going particularly well. The coach will test how the group feels they are doing; asking deep, reflective questions. Through this process the team will discover if there are issues they have been hiding below the table and surface them, allowing the air to be cleared and the group to focus their energies on being a better team and solving the problem. During the intervention the problem continues to mull around in the participants subconscious; when the group returns to problems solving, the problem moves to the forefront and the learning moves to the subconscious. This flip flopping of conscious and subconscious processing has a phenomenal impact; with each flip from subconscious to conscious there is a leap in performance, from both the processing and learning aspect.