Case study: action inquiry

For around ten years were a global leadership development partner  partnered one of the world’s fastest growing software organisations. Over this time, we designed a delivered a large number of leadership development programmes initiatives, in our role as a primary leadership development partner for its global high potential manager population. One of the key successes we achieved during this period was to help the business develop as a learning organisation. Up until our arrival, most leadership and management development programmes had been based largely around didactic training and skills development, delivered either through the classroom or individualised remote learning. 

One of the first programmes we were asked to look at was the development roadmap for front line managers. We designed a programme that focused not only on knowledge transfer and skills acquisition, but also on developing self-awareness and ensuring learning is translated into action. We designed a leadership journey that integrated face-to-face and remote learning sessions with regular peer learning groups, who meet between events to focus on continuous application and learning. Most of this may sound pretty familiar and unremarkable in terms of approach, but it was what we did in these sessions that was different.

Many leadership programmes pay a lot of attention to classroom workshops and online learning, and leave the action learning part to run itself. At Living Systems, however, we believe the action learning components of programmes are as important as the classroom and the computer. By developing participants’ capacity for collective intelligence we enabled them to engage effectively in the process of collective action inquiry. Action Inquiry is an approach to problem solving that involves taking action and collectively reflecting upon the results – a kind of turbocharged action learning, if you will. It transforms an individual’s awareness, along with their ability to read, assess and intervene more effectively in group dynamics and organisational systems, whilst working on a live business challenge.

The scores and metrics on our programme were outstanding, amongst the highest they had ever seen for a development programme, globally. By rolling out the leadership programme in this way and developing the mental, relational and task agility of participants, we established the organisation’s capacity for collective intelligence. Action inquiry has been embedded as a fundamental part of the organisational culture, and the organisation has developed its ability to collaborate and innovate across organisational boundaries. As a result of our achievements with the managerial population, we were also invited to also take on the global Executive High Potential programme, which we ran for a further six years.

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