Marquardt is Professor of Human Resource Development and Program Director of Overseas Programs at The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. He also serves as President of Global Learning Associates, and Director of the Global Institute for Action Learning. He has held a number of senior management, training and marketing positions with organizations such as Grolier, American Society for Training and Development, Association Management Inc., Overseas Education Fund, TradeTec, and U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He has trained more than 75,000 managers in nearly 100 countries since beginning his international experience in Spain in 1969. Marquardt is the author of 18 books and more than 90 professional articles in the fields of leadership, learning, globalization and organizational change. His published works include Optimizing the Power of Action Learning, Building the Learning Organization, The Global Advantage, Action Learning in Action, Global Leaders for the 21st Century, Global Human Resource Development, Technology-Based Learning, Global Teams, Leading with Questions, and most recently, Action Learning for Developing Leaders and Organizations.
Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of Marquardt.
Morris: By what process should an action learning program be formulated and then implemented?
Marquardt: Based upon my experience and research over the past 10 years with hundreds of organizations, I have discovered that the full power of action learning requires six components.
1. A problem (i.e. project, challenge, opportunity, issue or task) should be significant, urgent, and be the responsibility of the team to solve. It should also provide and opportunity for the group to generate learning opportunities, to build knowledge, and to develop individual, team and organizational skills. Groups may focus on a single problem of the organization or multiple problems introduced by individual group members.
2. An action learning group or team (ideally composed of 4-8 individuals) who examine an organizational problem that has no easily identifiable solution. The group should have diversity of background and experience so as to acquire various perspectives and to encourage fresh viewpoints.
3. A process that emphasizes insightful questioning and reflective listening by focusing on the right questions rather than the right answers. Action learning focuses on what one does not know as well as on what one does know. The focus is on questions because great solutions are contained within the seeds of great questions.
4. In order to take action on the given problem, members of the action learning group must have the power to take action themselves or be assured that their recommendations will be implemented, (barring any significant change in the environment or the group’s obvious lack of essential information). If the group only makes recommendations, it looses its energy, creativity and commitment.
5. Solving an organizational problem provides immediate, short-term benefits to the company. The greater, longer-term, multiplier benefit, however, is the learning gained by each group member as well as the group as a whole, and how those learnings are applied on a systems-wide basis throughout the organization but only if there is a commitment to learning.
6. An action learning coach is necessary for the group to focus on the important (i.e. the learnings) as well as the urgent (resolving the problem). The action learning coach helps the team members reflect both on what they are learning and how they are solving problems. Through a series of questions, the coach enables group members to reflect on how they listen, how they may have reframed the problem, how they give each other feedback, how they are planning and working, and what assumptions may be shaping their beliefs and actions.
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