Professor Reginald Revans developed the concept of action learning. It originated with his experience training as a physicist at the University of Cambridge. In his interactions with this bright group of scientists, several of whom won Nobel prizes at a later stage, he observed the importance of each scientist describing his/her own ignorance, sharing experiences and continually reflecting to learn. He used these observances to further develop the action learning method in the 1940’s while working for the British Coal Board. Whilst there, he encouraged managers to meet together in teams to share their experiences and ask each other questions about what they saw and heard. The approach increased productivity astoundingly by over 30%! He later concluded that conventional instructional methods were largely ineffective.

Of particular note here is that people had to be aware of their lack of relevant knowledge and be prepared to explore the area of their ignorance with suitable questions and help from other people in similar positions. Revans later developed the formula L=P+Q where L is Learning, P is Programming and Q is Questioning to create insight into what people see, hear or feel. Michael Marquardt later expanded Revan’s formula to L=P+Q+R, where R is Reflection, perhaps stressing the point that “great questions” should evoke thoughtful reflections while considering the current problem, the desired goal, designing strategies, developing action or implementation plans or executing action steps that are components of the implementing plan.

Although this learning method, apparently, is practised by a large number of organisations globally, it strikes me that an environment of trust is necessary to challenge existing paradigms, current operational methods and strategies and company policy and norms. The learning method is highly unlikely to work in a toxic politicised environment where managers and teams are attempting to protect their turf and areas of control. Very few managers enjoy being challenged as to their respective methodologies. The human being wants to be “right”, hates criticism and is hardly comfortable even with constructive feedback.

But paradigms, or ways of thinking and doing things, need to be challenged if teams are going to improve and grow to maturity. Perhaps an organisational environment of acceptance for new ideas and challenges, of “nothing is sacred”, of “everything can be reviewed”, needs to be instituted, where even the CEO can be challenged if employees have reasonable belief in new ideas and research to change the way things are done. This takes good leadership, an environment of trust and a willingness to learn and grow if teams are going to participate in this way and subsequently develop the way they should.

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