by | Sep 18, 2023

4 benefits to being part of an action learning set

How do you figure out what’s going on under the surface, or past the busyness in your charity or workplace? What about the relational dynamics, the themes that you face as an organisation or the culture? Being part of an Action Learning Set is an invaluable space in which to learn, to be a better leader, and a better human.

What is an Action Learning Set? (ALS for short) Original management thinker, Dr Reg Ravans[1] developed the concept of Action Learning in the UK in the 1940s, he stated that ‘there can be no learning without action and no action without learning’. The sets have a long history in the NHS[2]. and wider healthcare system, where ‘wicked’ problems abound. Today they are a massive part of learning and development for many sectors.

In the campaigning space they can be crucial to success, as we get a chance to step back and look at the wider picture and explore what we can say no to. They give us a chance to sharpen analytical skills, learn how to ask an open question, and focus our ability to devise actions as the experts in our own lives.

The benefits of being part of an ALS are four-fold.  Firstly, it offers you the opportunity to learn from good practice and to develop new ideas.  Secondly, it is a forum in which to give and receive support and challenge from your peers, and to develop listening, questioning and feedback skills. Thirdly, it can be a useful sounding board in exploring issues where you feel stuck or gritty issues that are particularly hard to unpick. Finally, action learning sets provide the space to reflect on something that has happened and to learn from it. Equally, it’s a space to think and plan about a future project.

Being part of an ongoing Action Learning Set can enable reflection on our unconscious biases or our tendencies to do things a certain way. They can highlight patterns in our behaviour that we may not easily see. The dedicated space to share what we notice during each session’s reflection round can be really useful for this. It can provide a supportive as well as challenging space for reflective learning, as well as an increase in job satisfaction through peer support.

Sounds good? What could be the down sides? Here are three things that are often said…

‘The time commitment is too big’! –committing to 3-hour set, 5 or 6 times a year, can feel like a lot, whether you are full or part time. But if you choose to reflect on it as ‘3 days’ work’, it doesn’t seem as much.

‘They are a ‘luxury,’ I’m too busy’ Ever sensed you are just busy ‘doing’ rather than being strategic? According to Oliver Burkman we all have 4,000 weeks… how do you know if you are doing the right stuff? But equally, if you are leading a campaigning charity or a department in the campaigning space – how can you afford NOT to take time to reflect?

‘They cost!’ Yes, they do! As do most things that are worthwhile. There are only so many one-day courses you can do, so why not invest in space that looks at key live issues in your life right now? A space that is supportive and helps you create some actions, so you can have a healthy sense of control.

If this sounds intriguing or up your street, why don’t you sign up? You would be most welcome.


[2] Full article: Action learning and healthcare 2011–2022 (

Josephine Knowles

Josephine Knowles is a freelance coach, trainer and action learning set facilitator.



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