Peer Networks and Action Learning
Action learning is an approach to problem solving and learning in groups to bring about change in individuals, teams, organisations and systems. It is based on the principle that the most effective learning takes place in the context in which people are working. A Peer Network is a private group of invited business leaders, formed to support its participants by working together to share challenges, solutions, knowledge, expertise and experience.
▪ Participants gather on a regular basis with the support of a facilitator to explore individual participants’ challenges and to co-operate by sharing learning from each other’s successes, setbacks and practices.
▪ The point is to realise opportunities, overcome challenges, and develop themselves and their businesses.
▪ The conversation is structured and facilitated using action learning principles to ensure consistency, efficiency and effectiveness, leading to specific actions self-directed by participants.
▪ Participants reflect on the feedback and discussion and act on new thinking following the session, reporting the results back to their co-members the next time they meet. This helps everyone move forward on their challenges and learn from each other’s progress. The fact that participants always report back to the group helps everyone hold each other to account for progressing with their issues and opportunities.
▪ The process is designed to deliver new insights for participants and result in tangible actions or solutions.
For the Peer Networks programme participants will benefit from both access to a professional action learning facilitator and one-to-one support outside of the group sessions. Importantly, the content of the sessions is driven by the participants from a list of key themes (e.g. business development, marketing, people management, technology adoption, response to COVID-19, EU transition) and can be tailored to focus on their specific needs, including wider issues that may be affecting their sector, locality or business model.
Each Peer Network will be underpinned by an Action Learning methodology which is designed to enable participants to unlock benefit from – and the collective thinking power and experience of – a peer group. This is not formal management or skills training, but personal development focused with the help of a facilitator. The Action Learning process is a cyclical one, typically running over several weeks. Each member has the chance to present an opportunity or issue and receive help to explore this and any solutions, whilst also commenting on the challenges for others. The process broadly follows this pattern:
1. Present your opportunity, challenge, or problem
2. A facilitator helps the group members question each participant constructively to challenge views and understanding, perceptions and assumptions. Others share their knowledge of the issue.
3. The participant gains new insights, understanding, ideas and can identify actions to take.
4. They can test out their action plan with the group.
5. Participants bring results back to the group to feedback on what worked, what failed, and why?
6. Participants can then reflect, draw conclusions, and learn from this rich experience and integrate the new knowledge they have gained into workplace actions and business plans.
Facilitated peer networks based on action learning principles have many benefits for participants:
▪ Learning from others: participants benefit from the collective experience of others in their Peer Network. They gain practical insight into how others have approached challenges and opportunities, understanding what worked well and what was not as effective.
▪ Perspective shift: the structure and format of the facilitated group sessions ensures that participants will consider their challenges and opportunities through a wider variety of lenses, as they explain their situation and are questioned by the group.
▪ Accountability: participants feel far more accountability to a group of their peers than to one consultant, coach, or advisor alone. Being accountable for detailed outcomes in the context of the actions they bring back to the peer group in the next session is a particularly strong motivator. In this programme the process is also assisted by one-to-one support to aid reflection and the implementation of actions.
▪ Building relationships: the confidential sharing and exploration of real business challenges is far stronger than that created in standard networking scenarios. These connections endure and promote informal mentoring and support between businesses outside of group sessions.
▪ More action: interactions lead to follow-on conversations outside the disciplined environment of the facilitated group sessions. Suggestions and offers of help from peers inevitably drive further connection and often action based on inspiration from a peer.
▪ Perpetuation: the strong relationships formed between peers, through the facilitated sharing and consideration of each other’s business challenges, often continue to be valuable long after the formal interventions have completed.
▪ Reflective practice: each session also ensures participants share their experiences (the good, the bad and the ugly) in the context of business theory, exploring ideas and solutions with others, and reflecting on what they might do differently next time and what the outcomes might be. The act of taking part in these structured conversations builds the understanding and capability of participants to reflect upon their own performance, including successes and setbacks.