Action Learning in Asia

IMG_0309-e1395948691526I am just returning from spending nearly 3 weeks in Asia consulting, training, and presenting at the 2014 Asia Forum hosted by Paulina Chu and WIAL-Taiwan. As always, I have come away with new perspectives and insights after spending an extended period of   time in a different culture and region of the globe. Here are some thoughts that occur to me as I wend my way home to Washington, DC, and the USA.

During the first week in Asia, Arthur and I provided training in Organizational Development and Change (OD&C)for WIAL-China in Shanghai. This was a very exciting project for us because we have been saying for a number of years that Action Learning (AL) is an organizational intervention that brings about profound changes to organizations and systems as well as for teams and individuals. AL   coaches, in the course of working on a single or several problems, become intimately acquainted with the larger set of needs and challenges facing an organization. In a 3-day program, we trained the AL coaches at WIAL-China, Shanghai to recognize these opportunities and work with the organization to assess the needs and readiness of the organization to address these issues. We also introduced the coaches to the wide range of OD&C techniques, methods, and strategies for accomplishing the desire of the organization and its leadership to change. As with all of our training, participants worked on real problems, rather than going through exercises or hearing about case studies. During the program, WIAL-China, Shanghai AL coaching teams met with some of their current clients to generate real work. Of course, it wasn’t possible to provide complete training in OD&C in only 3 days, but it was a productive start.

Following our work in Shanghai, Arthur and I traveled to Taipei, Taiwan to participate in the 2014 WIAL Asia Forum sponsored by WIAL-Taiwan and wonderfully organized by the Paulina Chu. The first 2 days of the Forum provided presentations in both English and Chinese regarding AL. During my keynote presentation, I made the case for AL as a great platform for solving critical, urgent, and complex problems, provided evidence for the causal process between learning and action, and introduced a useful mental model, the Cycle of Effective Problem Solving, that can be used by AL coaches to develop questions that target the specific issues that teams are facing in addressing complex problems. A copy of my presentation, “Maximizing the Power of Action Learning to Solve Critical and Urgent Problems”, will be posted in the Library on the LTA website as soon as I return home.

During his keynote presentation, Arthur discussed the process of converting training-focused consultation into other consultation such as AL or OD&C. His presentation was a summary and overview of the work that we had just concluded with WIAL-China, Shanghai the previous week.

On the third day of the forum we provided half-day workshops that expanded upon the concepts and ideas that we presented during our keynote addresses. In my workshop, I provided an overview of typical problem-solving strategies and demonstrated how various mental models (e.g., The Cycle of Effective Problem Solving, Argyris’s Ladder of Inference, After-Action Review, Bateson’s concept of differences that make a difference to identify pivotal moments in the AL process) could be used to improve the questions that AL coaches ask and the quality of the resulting solutions. Arthur provided an overview of how OD&C methods could be extended and applied by AL coaches.

Here are some additional thoughts and insights I have about AL in Asia:

  1. AL coaches in Asia are very interested in expanding their “toolbox” of skills to make sure that they can address the broad array of problems, challenges, and issues uncovered in the AL work.
  2. The concept of using “mental models” as tools for developing useful questions was new to many AL coaches at the Forum. When the value of mental models was presented, however, we received an enthusiastic response, especially to the Cycle of Effective Problem Solving mental model.
  3. WIAL-affiliated and trained AL coaches recognize the importance of supporting the self-organizing and self-management efforts of the team by staying in the coaching role rather than providing facilitation that directly or subtly undermines these efforts by suggesting what the team should do.

Both Arthur and I appreciated the opportunities to learn about Asia and AL developments in Asia and hope to work in this part of the world again.


Skip Leonard, PhD
Master Action Learning Coach


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