I am both absolutely essential and totally irrelevant

First posted on LinkedIn May 19, 2016

Tomorrow I am facilitating an Action Learning Set for a group of managers and senior managers who are in the middle of a partnering skills developmental programme.  They will have been practising partnering techniques they have learned.  They are coming to share their progress and blockers, and help each other build confidence in their new skills.

What is action learning?

Action learning is a process by which participants study their own actions and experiences in order to improve their skills and performance.  This is done in conjunction with others in small groups called Action Learning Sets.

Research has shown that action learning develops real-world wisdom rather than traditional educational processes that tend to focus purely on knowledge.  It is particularly suited to leadership and management development in organisations.  This is because participants are working on real problems in the real world that affect real people, rather than solving individual puzzles (such as developing budgets on spreadsheets).

Both learning approaches require taking action, reflecting on that action and making practical changes to the actions to be taken next time to improve performance.  However, action learning in groups propels the individual further and faster in the real world.  This is because their peers are helping them see the results of their actions on other people.

The role of the facilitator

And as facilitator of this process, my role is to intervene as little as possible, so that the participants do as much of the work as possible.  I will hold the space on behalf of the group so they can focus on helping each other.  I will ensure ground rules are observed and I will manage the process of the session.

Arguably, I am totally irrelevant to the group, who are quite capable of running this for themselves.  Equally I am absolutely essential… my presence will create the right conditions for the group to maximise their learning.

If I do my job well, they will hardly notice me, they will feel confident they can run the next session themselves, and then my continued presence will be totally irrelevant…

I will know my presence was absolutely essential.


Jeremy J Lewis


Posted in Action learning, Facilitation, Leadership development and tagged , , .

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