Action Learning – an approach that involves putting together diverse, high-potential leaders into teams to tackle a critical, real-life business challenge — is now a vital element in quality leadership development programs. Unlike in traditional classroom training, Action Learning team members use practice, action and deliberate reflection to acquire new skills and knowledge about the challenge at hand, the organization, teamwork, leadership, and themselves.
If you are familiar with action learning programs, you know that the benefits of Action Learning are many and significant. But you also know that those benefits don’t come without thorough preparation, organizational commitment, and structural support for learning, skill development, and reflection.
Over the past several years I have worked with a client, a billion-dollar electronics company, that incorporated Action Learning projects into its Leadership Forums for high-potential leaders and technology specialists. In addition to achieving the known benefits of Action Learning, the organization’s senior team wanted to cultivate the participants’ creative problem-solving capabilities to enable them to successfully address the immediate business issue as well as future complexities and challenges.
They decided to incorporate the Breakthrough Creativity Profile as a framework to build self-awareness and at the same time develop a greater understanding of creativity and individual differences.
The week-long Leadership Forum began with team assignments and an introduction to the principles of Action Learning. Team members also completed the 16-item Breakthrough Creativity Profile assessment. During the balance of the week, the Action Learning teams studied together and then participated in faculty-led classroom-learning sessions. This work gave them a chance to get to know one another while deepening their knowledge of critical business topics. They also received their action learning challenges during the week.
On the last day of the Forum, the teams participated in a Breakthrough Creativity workshop that introduced them to the Eight Creative Talents. Team members first reviewed their individual Breakthrough Creativity Profile results. Through discussion and activities, the participants came to better understand creativity and to recognize the contributions and possible shortcomings of each of the eight talents. They also created individual action plans to further develop their creative problem-solving and inventive-thinking capabilities.
With their individual profiles in hand, each team then built a Breakthrough Creativity Team Profile. The team profile offered team members a stronger understanding of the impact individual talents have on the team’s overall creative results. It also allowed them to explore gaps and challenges and helped them plan to become more creative Action Learning teams.
For example, one team realized that their dominant Diplomat talent, while contributing to strong relationships, could also inhibit productive conflict. So the team committed to working together on productive conflict management. Another team with an overall preference for extraverted talents recognized it was going to have be sure to draw out members with dominant introverted talents and listen to them more carefully in order to benefit from their expertise. A team with a dominant Pilot talent discovered it needed to be careful to explore lots of options instead of focusing on getting results quickly. The team members recognized they needed to incorporate several idea generation tools into their process.
The impact of the Breakthrough Creativity Profile was not just about creative thinking since the Breakthrough Creativity framework is based on Carl Jung’s model of psychological types. The knowledge gained from identifying creative talents helped team members learn more about their individual preferences for taking in data, making decisions, and solving problems as they step up to leadership responsibilities. The Eight Creative Talents framework also provided the teams with a language for confronting interpersonal issues and with a technique for generating ideas (e.g., how would a Explorer, Navigator, or Inventor talent see this problem?).
The discussion that ensued as a result of the Breakthrough Creativity Profile helped the teams to steer clear of potential problems, added an element of fun, and facilitated their progress on Action Learning projects over the next six months. For more information about the eight creative talents,
What approaches have you used with action learning teams to ensure success?