Action Learning Sets

We are proud to be offering Action Learning Sets to members of the Women’s Network.

What is an Action Learning Set?

Action Learning Sets (ALS) are a tried and tested tool for professional development across the globe. For example, they have been part of management and leadership programmes at Lancaster University for nearly two decades, are used in many other educational institutions, within NHS Leadership Academy, and in global businesses such as Microsoft and Heineken.

Action Learning is an organisation development tool that empowers employees to resolve complex problems,” (Pedler and Abbott, 2013).

An Action Learning Set is a group of 4-8 people or ‘set’ who come together on a regular basis to help each other by establishing trust, listening to each other, asking open, non-judgemental questions,  encouraging each other to reflect, and make changes in their lives. Action Learning Sets are a powerful problem-solving tool that helps people who may be ‘stuck’ in some way to look at their situation in a fresh way, and formulate actions to help them move forward.

Register interest in Action Learning Sets

Examples of problems discussed include:

  • How to manage an underperforming colleague
  • Lack of support from line manager/difficulties with line manager
  • Feeling stuck in a role and wanting to go for promotion
  • How to deal with bullying from a colleague
  • Wanting to change a process or practice in the workplace but not sure how to do so

The three roles within an Action Learning Set

  1. The Facilitator, who organises and manages the ALS, establishes a group contract with clear ground rules to make sure their set has a safe, confidential space for discussion, manages the whole process including timing and who presents challenges, promotes effective enquiry and discussion amongst the set, and facilitates reflection and action planning. Facilitators can also double as set members in small groups if the set decides that is suitable.
  2. The Presenter, a set member who takes their turn to present a problem they would like the other set members to help them solve, and then responds to questions from the set members, reflects and forms actions to solve the problem.
  3. The Set Member, who listens to the presenter, asks open, non-judgemental questions, supports the group and helps create a safe, attentive space.

What actually happens in an ALS? What’s the process?

 Each meeting, which can vary in length depending on the group, follows the same procedure:

  1. Report in: Set members who presented last time report back on what actions have taken place
  2. Bidding process: The set decides who is going to present a problem and time is divided up accordingly
  3. Presentation: The Presenter talks, without interruption about their problem
  4. Questions:  The space is opened up to the set to ask questions. Each member responds by writing questions on a Post-it™ note and then hands the question to the presenter. The presenter answers questions, either immediately, or they may group, categorise or discard questions as they see fit and when ready will address the questions that they wish to answer in the order they wish to respond. Set members may probe and follow up on responses. See our example questions page.
  5. Forming actions: The presenter answers questions, reviews their options develops a brief action plan
  6. Feedback:  The set reflects on the group process and gives feedback on what has taken place

What benefits could I get from taking part in an Action Learning Set?

  • “Peer support! Priceless”
  • “Allows you to speak/discuss, helping others”
  • “Gives you confidence in your experience and skills”
  • “Supporting and encouraging learning environment”
  • “Good to have thinking space away from work”
  • “Increasing your professional networks,”

Quotes taken from The NW HE Cross Institutions Action Learning group ALS set members survey.

How can I get involved?

If you are a Lancaster University staff member and you are interested in joining an Action Learning Set (ALS) as a Set Member or a Facilitator, or if you have any questions about ALS, please fill in the form below and our ALS Manager, Amanda Ross, will get back to you asap.

Lancaster University will hold and use the information which you supply in line with our privacy policy. This will be used to contact you in response to your enquiry.