Organizations in all sectors and in all industries are and will continue to be confronted by the challenge of multiple changes in their external environments. For example, creation of disruptive technologies, fluctuating economies, increasing or decreasing governmental regulations, demographic shifts, human and natural disasters, expanding globalism, and aggressive competition. As the environmental landscape changes unpredictably along many different dimensions, organizations must recognize and adapt to the discontinuous threats and opportunities that these changes create. This calls for organizations themselves to change in ways that their unique histories have not prepared them. Thus, organizations today need effective tools to enable them to quickly create solutions for complex, systemic, important, unprecedented problems. Organizations must also learn from their experiences in creating such solutions: high potential managers must acquire executive-level knowledge, skills, and attitudes; problem solving team members must learn how to develop high performing teams; team members must learn how to deal with problems among interdependent subsystems and between their organization and its various stakeholders. These are the areas in which action learning makes a powerful and enduring impact.
This book is intended for leaders at all organizational levels who are contemplating leading, planning, and managing complex systems change using action learning. It has two parts. In part I, the authors use a series of questionnaires to enable organizational leaders to make informed decisions about the kinds and types of consultants they might engage to assist them in leading transformational, unprecedented organizational change and leadership development programs. The types of consultants considered are contract employees (extra-pairs-of-hands), trainer-educators, technical experts (techsperts) and subject matter experts (SMEs), consulting organizational psychologists (COPs) and organization development and change (OD&C) practitioners, task or process facilitators, and action learning team coaches. The authors encourage leaders to avoid all or nothing choices and to consider, instead, employing a mix of types of consultants to be deployed where each type is best suited to be of assistance. Multidisciplinary consulting teams are encouraged.
Part II focuses on the requisite infrastructure for action learning projects and the role responsibilities that leaders must assume to assure the success of these efforts. The authors provide a detailed description of the essential elements of an effective action learning project. These are:
1. Compelling, important, urgent, complex, unprecedented problems
2. The action learning team
3. The questioning and reflection process
4. The commitment to taking action
5. The commitment to learning
6. The action learning team coach
For each element, the authors provide detailed descriptions of essential leadership functions and the common issues that emerge. We provide advice to leaders on actions they can take to solve emerging project management problems and to learn from the experiences. The contributions of action learning to the process of developing a learning organization is also explored.
Arthur M. Freedman, MBA, Ph.D. is a licensed consulting organizational psychologist specializing in action learning coaching, executive coaching, leadership development, organization development, and planning and implementing complex organizational change. He has consulted throughout the world. He is an Adjunct Professor in the MBA Program, Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University and Visiting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania. He received many awards: 1994 RHR International Award for Excellence in Consulting Psychology; Elliott Jaques Award for the outstanding Consulting Psychology Journal article of 1997; 2007 Levinson Award for Exceptional Contributions to Organizational Consulting Psychology; Hall of Fame Award from the National Hispanic Institute in 2011; 2012 Distinguished Psychologist in Management award from the Society of Psychologists in Management. Skipton Leonard, Ph.D. is a social and organizational psychologist. He is Principal and Managing Director for Learning Thru Action, LLC, providing action-based solutions for developing people and organizations. Skip was a Vice President and Executive Consultant with Personnel Decisions International (PDI). Over the years, Skip has consulted with numerous Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies, NGOs, and US government agencies and institutes. He is an adjunct professor, Carey School of Business, Johns Hopkins University. He is a licensed psychologist in Virginia. Skip is a Member of the American Psychological Association, Past-President and Fellow of the Society of Consulting Psychology, and founding editor of the Consulting Psychology Journal. He received such awards as the Chairman's Award for Innovation (PDI), The Founders Award by NYU, and a special commendation for leadership from the Society of Consulting Psychology. Drs. Freedman and Leonard have many books, book chapters, articles, and professional presentations including: Leonard, H.S., Lewis, R., Freedman, A.M. & Passmore. J. (Eds.) (2013). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Leadership, Change & OD. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. Marquardt, M., Leonard, H.S., Freedman, A.M., Hill, C. (2009). Action learning for developing leaders and organizations: principles, strategies, and cases. Washington: American Psychological Association Press. Hill, C., Leonard, H.S., and Sokol, M. (2006). Action learning guide: real learning, real results. Minneapolis: Personnel Decisions International Press.