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Action Learning in Action:  How Action Learning Coaches Harness Collective Ambition


Can you pinpoint why some companies thrive, some teams are high performers and some leaders seem to “lead” their teams “better”?   One answer can be Collective Ambition.  That is, how leaders and teams together think about their organizational purpose, what is to be accomplished, how they will collaborate to achieve results, the conditions needed to align their brand promise with their core values, and how they shape the behaviors to support sustained “collective excellence” over singular goals.


Collective ambition isn’t just about a leader’s vision with an inspiring story for his or her team,

It’s in creating the conditions that create engagement and empower others to take action so that it becomes everyone’s story.  The shared stories have a clear vision, a purpose for all members to see their contributions, a strategy of moving from one place to another, a brand that reflects what the organization thinks of itself that aligns with what the customers or stakeholders think of the organization and individual behaviors that support the core values.


Collective ambition is a combination of glue (collaborative engagement) and the grease (collective, systematic execution). Ultimately, both the glue and the grease exist together; the glue creates the purpose that reminds the organization what the stands for.  The grease enables it to function in a meaningful way so the people and organization achieve results.   


Action Learning Coaches support Collective Ambition!  

Action Learning has evolved into the mainstream for executive coaches, business leaders and team leaders who want to harness the collective ambition for novel and creative thinking to challenging organizational problems. What is driving this?  Action learning does more than solve organizational problems; it develops leaders and leadership capability in real time in the context of the organization by creating the conditions (culture) to capitalize on strengths of the many, and by empowering staff to be part of the solution.   In essence, Action Learning Coaches support Collective Ambition.  How so? Both Action Learning Coaches and Collective Ambition share:


Purpose:  In an action learning set, action learning coaches help the group clarify what they are trying to achieve by framing the challenging organizational problem with “How do we…..?  Putting the purpose in a collective group develops a sense of belonging for the group.  Importantly, it helps to create the shared strategy, turn thinking into action and create the behaviors to support the strategy. 


Strategic Priorities: Ultimately, strategy is about moving from point A to point B by leveraging your resources in times of change to meet a purpose.  Action learning coaches are particularly effective in times of change – not just when change is happening – when it’s needed. In an action learning set, the action learning coach helps the team identify what actions they are going to take, the milestones and follow-ups and explores which connected groups need to be involved to achieve the purpose.


Leadership:   Ultimately, leadership exists at all levels. While there may be a positional leader, the actual activity of creating shared direction, aligning people and resources to a common  vision and empowering people to act on that vision happens at all levels.   Given the complexity of our work environment with technology, generations represented in our workforce, competition and globalization, it is an imperative that organizations develop leaders at all levels in the workforce that can operate where they are and can move up and horizontally throughout the organization.  Action learning coaches are highly effective in creating the conditions that support leadership development for organizational performance of inquiry over advocacy that allows others to leverage diverse opinions in a safe environment, learning to actively listen to other points of view and then to build on them, harnessing the collective knowledge in the group and providing a forum for individual and collective feedback, a key ingredient for a leaders development. When was the last time you worked in a team where everyone was empowered to both provide and receive feedback that helped them reflect on their leadership skills?   This can make significant difference in the long term success of any organization.   Action learning coaches empower the group to provide positive and developmental feedback that is in service to each other’s development.


Core Values/Behaviors and Organizational CultureI like to say that culture is the secret sauce for any organization.  Think of high performing teams and organizations, they all share something – that is the norms and behaviors that build trust and commitment over time. An organizations values and culture make itself know to its stake holders and answers the question “what do they stand for” which communicates. Action learning coaches help the team clarify behaviors that lead to organizational performance.     


Indeed, Action Learning Coaches play a pivotal role in creating collective ambition.   Succeeding in creating the need for change, implementing the change and gaining buy in for the actions is one of the hardest activities for any leader, especially a leader in a new role that has a mandate for change and performance with a new team.  Action learning coaches help leaders and teams strategically work with one another to build engagement across the organization by creating a forum for diverse points of view.  Action learning coaches help teams communicate the vision, strategy and commitment at all levels as no action learning group leaves without an action.  Finally, they develop teams new and existing staff at all levels in the organization by increasing their skills, creating a culture of performance and building trust. 


My Story: Why do I use action learning coaching when I work with teams?

I design and deliver leadership facilitation courses in addition to a significant amount of 1 to 1 executive coaching, and often use a variety of assessments to include 360’s.  I often use action learning in my leadership development classes and when I am working with both intact and diverse teams.  As a coach, I see the results in increased productivity as teams unlock and apply the diverse experiences to create new knowledge; the positive attitudes that develop by having an forum to be heard and to build upon others experiences; trust as people come to believe in the feedback and the intent of the others that around the table and transformation of their leadership as they try new approaches to being a leader such as inquiry over advocacy, paraphrasing, linking their goals to the organization’s goals. 


WIAL-USA Action Learning In Action

On December 1, 2016, WIAL-USA is hosting a day of “Action Learning in Action”

(see to show how action learning works and the role of the coach. If you have a pressing organizational challenge and would like to see how action learning can help you or if you are an executive coach, business leader or team member that wants to “take it to the next level”,

 I encourage you to come to the event.



Reference:  The Power of Collective Ambition, Ready, D., and Truelove, E. HBR Dec 2011

Andrew Rahaman & Associates