As we gathered that evening around the table and chairs set up in the middle of the room and the encircling round of chairs, our curiosity was sparked. What was going to happen? And where was I to sit?
Our guest, Murray Hopkins soon explained. Action Learning using the WIAL method is a process that involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as an organization.
We needed a small team and a problem presenter; Murray would be the AL coach. To maximise learning for all Murray ran the session as a fishbowl, coaching the table participants in the moment, and pausing to have meta-process conversations with the surrounding observers. A simple yet powerful design.
The problem presenter was me, Kaliopi ODA’s VP. The problem statement was “How do we make ODA the go-to place for connecting, sharing and growing OD practice in Australia?” Simple – surely there are lots of solutions?
Murray helped us learn that Action Learning solves problems and develops leaders at the same time because its simple rules force participants to think critically and work collaboratively.
Rule 1: Statements may only be made in response to questions
Rule 2: Anyone can ask a question of anyone else, or the whole group
Applying these simple rules made us in the table team slow right down, demanding that we pause and reflect before contributing. I found it intensified my listening; we all reflected later on how the rules drove us to shift from listening to respond, to listening to understand.
We each bumped into those usual ways of contributing which did not align with the rules. At times I was speechless with conscious incompetence as I grappled with bringing these rules to life in our problem-solving set. I was not alone! We all found ourselves challenged and uncomfortable lots of times as we realised we were not inviting exploration and curiosity or thinking critically, but rather pushing a lone solution or idea.
Sounds painful, so why do it? Because it works – and with practice Murray assured us we get better and faster! And it was one of the most refreshing, engaging, thought provoking problem solving processes I have ever experienced! The slowing down, the pausing, the discomfort elicited care and support from each other for each other, as well as a lot of laughs.
The process with the guidance of Murray our coach fostered a strong sense of “we are in this together”, even though sitting around the table was a disparate group of ODA members, visitors and Leadership group.
With Murray’s facilitation, we were also able to step out of the table into the insights from the meta process, and observations from the outer circle. Such a skill to be able to be in and outside of process, to be able to process the process!
Did we “solve” the problem? If by solve you mean, get an answer to fix the problem immediately, well then no, we didn’t. But solving for me in this experience meant dissolving the limitations I had in my thinking in presenting the issue as the problem! What was lurking or missing that needed attention?
As a group, it meant raising our awareness, curiosity and sensitivity to self and each other while navigating this particular problem terrain. It meant more questions that took us to unexpected, new insights and it spoke to the power of what happens when we pay attention to how we think critically and work collaboratively. Thanks Murray and thanks WIAL for sharing such a great process.
PS. ODA’s leadership group will be using insights and learnings from this session to help plan our future, so a huge thank you to all who joined us that evening!