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Emily Cosgrove provides a case study on how Action Learning is impacting at the major charity for people with learning disability


n today’s hyper-connected, always on, multi-generational and increasingly diverse

work context, the imperative to create opportunities for our people to connect through human conversation, has never been higher. Four years ago Mencap, the

leading UK charity for people with a learning disability, ran a 12-month Action Learning (AL) programme1 that was successful in boosting the engagement of their Area Operational Managers (AOMs). It also contributed to a culture shift in the organisation; paving a new pathway for managers to work in a different way by fostering higher engagement with their role, their colleagues and the organisation.

“AL offered me a different support network as well as challenges from different peers and a great opportunity to learn from others by having an insight into how they achieved different solutions and time to reflect. AL also offered us an opportunity to speak out as a collective

and address ongoing problems.” Helena Plunkett, AOM Sheffield, Mencap

Building on this success, Mencap was keen for AL to play a wider role across the organisation. Continuing struc- tured sets at the same time as building a flexible and blended approach using key principles of AL, opportunities were created to enable growth and de-

velopment around key areas including: ``


`` ` ` ` `

leadership development ways of working

connection between the exec team and top 80 leaders.

Classic AL happens in small sets of peers meeting regularly over time to tackle real problems as opposed to theoretical classroom learning. It

is underpinned by a belief that: ``

talented professionals are often better placed to succeed in their roles if they have sufficient quality time to reflect on what they do

`` ``

very often the best people to offer advice and guidance, or to stimulate valuable reflection, are peers

working on issues that are real to both the individual and their organisation is a powerful source of learning when combined with supported reflection

`` ``

the successes and failures of others provide rich opportunities for learning

to make change happen, you must first accept responsibility.

Sharing examples from across the organisation, as well as personal reflections from participants, this article highlights how the powerful AL approach has evolved to impact a wide range of populations as well as the culture of the charity.


In 2014, a programme was launched to encourage cross-directorate working; enhancing collaboration, growing connectedness and strengthening a ‘one Mencap’ perspective. A select number of senior managers

each joined an AL set of up to eight colleagues from across different parts of the organisation. Te sets met every six weeks, with the first meeting held over a full day (to help establish trust and connection) and

❝ ` ` `` `` ``

Focus was given to understanding how to create safe thinking environments, build trust and promote reflective learning

the following eight meetings lasting a half-day. All were run with a blend of internal and external facilitation which provided objectivity, contextual understanding and helped to build trust and confidentiality between peers and across the organisation. Some of the themes and learnings

from this programme included: ``

influencing through targeted conversations

greater narrative across the organisation – sharing stories from different teams/regions

sharing of strengths and challenges for different functions or teams

leveraging cross-team relationships and removing the tangible perception of organisational silos.

“AL provided an opportunity to really understand how people within different departments operated … getting to know people rather than knowing of them. While our roles as managers differed, we learnt that the problems we faced were often essentially the same and supported each other to see things from different perspectives

and think through resolutions.” Fiona Haworth, Finance Business Partner, Mencap

 | November 2016 | 29

understanding and navigating organisational networks

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