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Soundview Executive Book SummariesNovartis, a Swiss-based pharmaceutical conglomerate with more than 72,000 employees in 140 countries, recently formed a consortium of six noncompetitive companies from different sectors. At the heart of the consortium are six to eight action learning groups formed of members from each of the six companies. The action learning groups work as teams on specific business projects of importance to their respective companies. The overall goal of the action groups is threefold: to solve the business problems of the companies, to develop leaders, and to build organizational capacity.
Around the world, writes George Washington University professor Michael J. Marquardt, companies and organizations of all sizes are using the action learning methodology to solve major problems and build productive and effective teams.
In Optimizing the Power of Action Learning, Marquardt, an expert on the action learning process, details exactly how the methodology works and how it can be used for important problems impacting businesses large and small.
Six Components of Action Learning
Action learning is a problem-solving tool that at the same time builds successful leaders, teams and organizations. The six components of action learning are:
- A problem. Action learning centers on a problem or, more specifically, a project, challenge, opportunity, issue or task. The resolution of this problem has to be of great importance to the organization - action learning is not for minor issues. The problem must be significant and urgent.
- A group. The second component of action learning is an action learning group or team. The ideal group has four to eight diverse members, who bring various perspectives and fresh viewpoints to the task of resolving a significant organizational problem.
- Questions. A process of insightful questioning and reflective listening is key to the success of the action learning initiative. Action learning succeeds because the process focuses on the right questions, not the right answers. Questions build group cohesiveness, generate innovative and systems thinking, and enhance learning results.
- Action. Action learning requires that the action learning group be able to take action on the problem to which it has been assigned. The group must either have the power to take action, or be assured that its recommendations will be implemented. If neither of these conditions is in place, raising the specter of recommendations sitting in the bottom of a drawer, the team will lose its focus and energy.
- Learning. An equal commitment to learning is also essential for the success of action learning. While the short-term action steps needed to address the problem will be valuable to the company, it is the long-term learning gained through the exercise that most benefits the organization and its members.
- A coach. To keep the group focused on the important as well as the urgent, an action learning coach is required. Through helping group members reflect on how they listen or how they may have reframed the problem, for example, the coach keeps the group focused on what they are achieving, what they are finding difficult, what processes they are employing, and the implications of those processes.
Action learning is at its peak if all six of these components are in operation, interweaving and reinforcing each other.
Solving Problems at National Semiconductor
Here's an example of what action learning can offer a company:
Executives at National Semiconductor's Portland, Maine, plant recognized that they were having difficulties providing quality service at AT&T (National Semiconductor is one of AT&T's major suppliers).
Their response was to create an action learning team called the Customer Request Improvement Team. Members of the Customer Request Improvement Team were pulled from the sales, marketing, engineering, manufacturing and planning functions of National Semiconductor. The team also included members from AT&T.
Over a period of three months, the team considered more than 40 ideas for improvement, which resulted in four specific action initiatives:
- Analyzing in new ways the delivery misses.
- Increasing frequencies of lead-time updates.
- Creating critical device lists.
- Developing pre-alert reports.
Following the implementation of these initiatives, AT&T recognized National Semiconductor as one of its "world class" suppliers. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries