As leaders we can often find ourselves siloed, facing similar challenges and opportunities to others up and down the country but without the networks in place to share solutions and learn from others.
Through our leadership development programmes, Established Leaders and Emerging Leaders, Homeless Link has been facilitating Action Learning Sets for groups of CEOs, senior leaders and future leaders working in the homelessness sector.
The Sets provide a safe space for leaders to work through an issue that they or their organisation is facing, using the collective wisdom of the group’s questioning to work towards actions.
In this blog, our Senior Learning and Development Managers Lucy Horitz and Laura Millward explain how action learning sets work and describe their potential for transformational impact.
“I was a bit cynical at first about how effective the Action Learning Set process would be for addressing today’s issues. But I’ve been blown away by how powerful the Sets can be and how they’ve helped people to see issues and problems from completely new perspectives.”
“I’ve delivered ten rounds of Action Learning Sets so far and each one has focussed on a different topic. On almost every occasion, other members of the group have reported experiencing similar or identical issues within their own services. It’s been a brilliant learning experience for everyone.”
The principles of Action Learning Sets were developed by Professional Reginald Revans, a former Olympic long jumper, physicist and university lecturer. “There can be no learning without action, and no action without learning” – his thinking was underpinned by the belief that really difficult problems and challenges (which have no “right answers”) can never be solved by experts (who only deal in “right answers”) and can only be resolved by the people who have these problems and face these challenges.
There can be no learning without action, and no action without learning
Homeless Link’s Action Learning Sets are made up of five or six people who are participating in the Established or Emerging Leaders programme, so have already built up a sense of trust and bonding. Over the course of three half-day sessions, all Set members get to present at least one issue, challenge or opportunity which is troubling them. By asking open questions, the remaining group members challenge the thinking of the presenter, which encourages them to think of the issue from a completely new perspective. Through this process, the presenter comes to their own set of actions, and only after they’ve done this do the remaining Set members offer their wisdom, support and encouragement. Every session finishes with a process review, to ensure all Set members feel happy and comfortable.
Lucy and Laura are convinced that Action Learning Sets have the potential to create a huge impact on the homelessness sector too. While they can’t divulge the detail of what has been discussed within the sessions (one of the core principles of Action Learning Sets is strict confidentiality, with participants being barred from raising issues discussed outside the Set environment, even with one another), the themes have been striking. Those who have presented their challenges so far have been blown away by the results, and participants have fed back positively on their experience of the Sets. Established Leaders CEOs Action Learning Set participants said:
"I would have really appreciated this two years ago"
"That conversation was quite illuminating"
"I just observed, as I was getting so much out of it myself"