Write the ONE big idea you get from each resource Write the ONE big idea you get from each unit resource in a minimum of half a page for EACH idea using th

Write the ONE big idea you get from each resource Write the ONE big idea you get from each unit resource in a minimum of half a page for EACH idea using th

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Write the ONE big idea you get from each resource Write the ONE big idea you get from each unit resource in a minimum of half a page for EACH idea using the provided compendium template, ensuring the following:

1) In-text citation with brackets for each resource(total 4 resources)

2) Alphabetically ordered complete References listings.

Resource: Kaufman, J. (2013, March 14). The first 20 hours: How to learn anything [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MgBikgcWnY

VCUSOE. (2013, February 1). Michael Marquardt action learning lecture [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtVG8kF8qf4 Praise for
Optimizing the Power of Action Learning, 3rd Edition

“A brilliant compendium of key action learning techniques that produce
extraordinary results. This book is a masterful must-read for any
organization that aims to optimize its creativity and resilience amid rapid
shifts in this changing world.”

— Meliha Dzirlo-Ayvaz, Manager, Risk and Financial Advisory, Deloitte
& Touche

“Action learning is a powerful cross cultural tool to improving
effectiveness and efficiency of groups in corporate settings.”

— Dr. Mohammed Asad Al-Emadi, Chairman, Asad Holding, Qatar

“Action learning has become part of our culture and helped us be much
more successful in our actions.”

— Howard He, Assistant Vice President, Aviva-Cofco Life Insurance

“The third edition of Optimizing the Power of Action Learning is a great,
practical “How To” book for those looking to understand and apply the
power of action learning.”

— Bea Carson, Master Action Learning Coach; President, World
Institute for Action Learning

“In this third edition, the four co-authors share priceless new insights and
strategies to build leaders and organizations through action learning. If
you’re ready to fully unleash the power of creativity in your organization,
buy this book!”

— Bill Thimmesch, Founder, US Government Action Learning
Community of Practice


“The best approach to solving complex problems in complex
organizations. A tool that is invaluable for any leader in an organization.”

— Tom Gronow, Chief Operating Officer, University of Colorado

“Dr. Marquardt and his colleagues have written a must-read thought
provoking guidebook for anyone who doubts the value of asking powerful
questions yet craves the capacity to solve pressing problems in this era of
digital disruption. This book is timely! Learn from the best.”

— Dr. Sydney Savion, General Manager, Learning, Air New Zealand

“Positioned perfectly at the apex of research and practice, the third edition
of Optimizing the Power of Action Learning illuminates a clear and
concise path to maximizing organizational power through systematic and
simultaneous learning and action.”

— Dr. Ron Sheffield, President and Managing Director, OrgScience,

“This revised edition shows clearly how action learning can be a
magnificent tool for developing the skill of asking great questions for
teams, for leadership, and for innovation.”

— Marilee Adams, PhD, Author, Change Your Questions, Change
Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life;
Founder and CEO, Inquiry Institute International LLC

“A must-read for anyone who wants to improve the effectiveness of people
and organizations.”

— Doug Bryant, Vice President, Talent Management, Training and
Recruiting, Sonic Automotive

“Action learning’s power reaches far into the learning profession. It’s a
superb technique for demonstrating learning’s value, and this book is a
vital resource for harnessing learning as an organizational performance



— Dr. Dave Rude, Chief Learning Officer, Global Learning Associates




This edition first published in 2018 by Nicholas Brealey Publishing
An imprint of John Murray Press

An Hachette company

23 22 21 20 19 18 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Copyright © Michael J. Marquardt 2011, 2018

The right of Michael J. Marquardt to be identified as the Author of the Work has
been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior
written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of
binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar

condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Marquardt, Michael J., author.
Title: Optimizing the power of action learning : real-time strategies for
developing leaders, building teams and transforming organizations / by
Michael Marquardt, Shannon Banks, Peter Cauwelier, Choon Seng Ng.
Description: Third Edition. | Boston : Nicholas Brealey, 2018. | Revised

edition of Optimizing the power of action learning, c2011.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017058663 (print) | LCCN 2018000144 (ebook) | ISBN

9781904838364 (ebook) | ISBN 9781473646292 (open ebook) | ISBN
9781473676961 (paperback)

Subjects: LCSH: Organizational learning. | Problem-based learning. | Active
learning. | Leadership. | BISAC: BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Management. |

Classification: LCC HD58.82 (ebook) | LCC HD58.82 .M375 2018 (print) | DDC

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017058663



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Part 1

Chapter 1

Part 2

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6




About the Authors

Emergence of the Power of Action

Overview of Action Learning

Applying the Six Components of
Action Learning

The Problem

The Group

Questions and Reflection

Taking Action

Individual, Team, and Organizational


Chapter 7

Part 3

Chapter 8

The Action Learning Coach

Unleashing the Power of Action

Introducing, Implementing, and Sustaining
Action Learning in Organizations









ecently one of the authors conducted an action learning workshop
for nearly 50 training directors from several departments of the

US government. Following a brief overview and demonstration of action
learning, the directors formed eight randomly chosen groups and spent the
next couple of hours working on problems introduced by members of the
group. A volunteer in each group served as the action learning coach. To
conclude the action learning workshop, he asked the problem presenters
whether they had been helped. Every single one responded with an
enthusiastic, “Yes.” The volunteer learning coaches were then asked to
summarize the activity of their group, and each seemed to outdo the other
with wonderful testimonials on how well the group had worked on the
problem and the valuable learnings that were shared. Finally, a training
director from a table at the front of the room asked the author, “Does
action learning always work this perfectly?” The author’s response to him
and to all readers of this book is, “Yes, it can!”

Based on our collective experience with thousands of action learning
projects over the past 25 years, we have become ever more confident that
action learning has the power to always be successful. If the key elements
of action learning described in this book are established and allowed to
operate, action learning is amazing in its consistent capacity to:

Effectively and efficiently solve problems and challenges with truly
breakthrough and sustaining strategies
Develop the leadership skills and qualities needed by 21st century
Develop teams that continuously improve their capability to perform
and adapt



Develop powerful coaching and learning competencies
Transform organizations into learning organizations

Although action learning has been around since it was introduced by
Reg Revans in the coal mines of Wales and England in the 1940s, it is only
within the past 10 years that it has begun sweeping across the world,
emerging as the key problem-solving and leadership development program
for many global 100 giants such as Boeing, Sony, Panasonic, Deutsche
Bank, Toyota, Samsung, and Microsoft; for public institutions such as
Helsinki city government, Malaysian Ministry of Education, George
Washington University, and the US Department of Agriculture; and for
thousands of small and medium-sized firms all over the world.

Throughout this book you will discover how these and other
organizations have flourished with action learning and are discovering
how to optimize the power of action learning.

Requirements for Success in Action Learning

Briefly described, action learning is a remarkably simple program that
involves a group of people working on real problems and learning while
they do so. Optimizing the probability of success in action learning,
however, involves some basic components and norms (ground rules),
which form the substance of this book. These components include an
important and urgent problem, a diverse group of four to eight people, a
reflective inquiry process, implemented action, a commitment to learning,
and the presence of an action learning coach. Norms include “questions
before statements” and “learning before, during, and after action.”

Action learning works well because it interweaves so thoroughly and
seamlessly the principles and best practices of many theories from the
fields of management science, psychology, education, neuroscience,
political science, economics, sociology, and systems engineering. Action
learning has great power because it synergizes and captures the best
thinking of all group members and enriches their abilities.


Purpose of This Book

During the past 20 years, we have had the opportunity to work with
thousands of action learning groups around the world, as well as the good
fortune of sharing ideas and best practices with many of the world’s top
action learning practitioners. The purpose of this book is to share what we
have experienced and learned, the exhilaration as well as the challenges.
Although action learning is a relatively simple process, the essence of
which could fit on a three-by-five card, there are a number of key
principles and practices that, as we have discovered, move action learning
from good to great, that take it from being a solid organizational tool to a
spectacular resource for transforming people, groups, organizations, and
even entire communities.

This book describes each of the components of action learning and
why they are necessary for action learning success. Through scores of
stories and testimonials, the book clearly illustrates how many
organizations have implemented and thrived with action learning. It also
shows how any organization can simultaneously and effectively achieve
the five primary benefits of action learning, namely, problem solving,
leadership development, team building, organizational change, and
coaching competence.

This book presents the basic elements and principles of action learning
as well as the more advanced, more recent innovations within the field of
action learning, including the role of the action learning coach, the balance
between order and chaos for maximum creativity, and the step-by-step
procedures for introducing and sustaining action learning within your

Overview of the Book

Chapter 1 provides an overview of action learning, the six basic
components and two key ground rules. It summarizes the five greatest
challenges encountered by organizations in today’s environment and how
action learning enables organizations to respond effectively to those
challenges. Chapter 1 also highlights the major contributions of action


learning to organizations, groups, and individuals.
Chapters 2 through 7 explore in detail each of the six critical

components of successful action learning programs. Chapter 2 identifies
the criteria for an action learning problem, how it is best introduced and
examined, and the differences between single-problem and multiple-
problem groups. In Chapter 3, we explore the group, including diversity of
membership, ideal size, continuity, roles, and characteristics. Chapter 4
introduces the reflective inquiry process and discusses the importance of
questions as well as the group rule “statements only in response to
questions.” The problem-solving, goal-framing, strategy-development
action is covered in Chapter 5, and Chapter 6 examines the individual,
team, and organizational learning achieved through the action learning
process. In Chapter 7, the roles and responsibilities, authority, and
questions of the action learning coach are described.

Chapter 8 provides the reader with detailed practical steps for
unleashing the power of action learning in organizations and communities.
We provide guidance for introducing, implementing, and sustaining action
learning. Specific strategies for applying each step are offered. Two in-
depth case studies (Essilor International and US Department of Justice)
have been added.

Throughout the book are scores of case examples from groups around
the world that have introduced action learning into their organizations. The
challenges they faced as well as the successes they experienced are
discussed. Finally, there are numerous checklists at the end of each chapter
to guide readers in understanding and implementing action learning for

What’s New in the 3rd Edition

Since the 2nd edition was published seven years ago, action learning has
flourished in many countries around the world and within thousands of
new organizations. We have thus added new vignettes and case studies
from countries such as India, the Philippines, Brazil, France, Kuwait,
Ukraine, Thailand, Uganda, Cambodia, and the Caribbean. More action
learning is occurring within community-based organizations, and we have


therefore included such programs as C&C in London and the United
Nations Environmental Program in Kenya.

During the past seven years, the authors have continued to experiment
with and improve the power and process of action learning. Leadership
development has become much more integrated into action learning. In
this edition, we also share the recent experiences we have had in
introducing, implementing, and sustaining action learning in organizations
(Part 3/Chapter 8).

The value of questions has become ever more critical for leadership
and problem solving. In this edition, we have added more strategies and
principles in helping teams and leaders become better at asking questions.

Finally, new advances in the social and physical sciences have enabled
us to better increase our understanding as to how and why action learning
works so well and so powerfully. We have added updated theories,
particularly how the use of theories and principles of neuroscience can
improve action learning.

Action Learning: The Power Tool for the 21st

Action learning is truly an exciting and awesome tool for individuals,
teams, and organizations struggling for success in the 21st century. More
and more of us have experienced the power and the benefit of action
learning in our lives and in our organizations. It is my hope that many
more will be able to share in the wonderful and amazing adventure of
action learning. If you apply the principles and practices offered in this
book, you too will see how action learning can, indeed, be powerful and
successful every time. Good luck!




e owe a deep debt of gratitude to so many people not only for
this book, but for the action learning opportunities and

experiences offered by them that made this book possible. First, we would
like to recognize the founding pioneer of action learning, Reg Revans, who
inspired each of us and thousands of others around the world about the
power of action learning. Reg died in early 2003, and this book is
dedicated to his memory.

There are many other giants in the field of action learning from whom
we have learned so much, including Lex Dilworth, Charles Margerison,
Victoria Marsick, and Mike Pedler. Special recognition also goes to
colleagues who have guided us along the way, especially Marilee Adams
and Thomas Carne for their insights on questions and collegial coaching.
Boeing, Samsung, and Microsoft were important launching sites in
developing the WIAL model of action learning, and we would like to
especially thank Nancy Stebbins, Shannon Wallis, and Anita Bhasin for
bringing us these opportunities.

We would like to thank the World Institute for Action Learning
(WIAL) family of affiliates, partners, and certified coaches who have
worked with us to expand action learning around the world. Special
appreciation to the members of the board of directors who have guided
WIAL over the years, especially Bea Carson, who now serves as chair.

Sincere thanks to the people at Nicholas Brealey Publishing, especially
Alison Hankey and Michelle Morgan, who have patiently and joyfully
helped in every stage of the writing of this third edition.

Finally, we would like to thank our wonderful spouses—Eveline
Marquardt, Varunyupar Cauwelier, Serene Ng, and Richard Banks—for
their support, love, and encouragement.



Michael Marquardt

Michael Marquardt is Professor of Human Resource Development and
International Affairs as well as Program Director of Overseas Programs at
George Washington University. Mike is a co-founder and first president of
the World Institute for Action Learning (WIAL) and currently serves as
chair of the Global Advisory Board.

Mike is the author of 24 books and over 100 articles in the fields of
leadership, learning, globalization, and organizational change. More than a
million copies of his publications have been sold in nearly a dozen
languages worldwide. He served as the editor of the UNESCO
Encyclopedia volume on human resources. He has been a keynote speaker
at international conferences in Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia,
South Africa, Singapore, and India as well as throughout North America.

Mike’s achievements and leadership have been recognized through
numerous awards, including the International Practitioner of the Year
Award from the American Society for Training and Development. He
serves as a senior adviser for the United Nations Staff College in the areas
of policy, technology, and learning systems. Mike is a fellow of the
National Academy for Human Resource Development and a co-founder of
the Asian Learning Organization Network. His writings and
accomplishments in action learning have earned him honorary doctoral
degrees from universities in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Shannon Banks

Shannon Banks is managing director of Be Leadership, a modern


leadership development company focused on helping organizations, teams,
and executives thrive in a digital, social, and networked world. She is a
Master Action Learning Coach and a board member for the World Institute
for Action Learning. Shannon holds a master’s degree from the University
of Birmingham, England. She has completed an executive coaching
certification with the NeuroLeadership Institute and is accredited as an
ACC with the International Coach Federation.

In addition to her coaching, Shannon works as a consultant and
facilitator for global clients across many sectors. As part of this work,
Shannon often uses action learning to help create sustainable cultural
change. Prior to Be Leadership, Shannon spent seventeen years with
Microsoft in a variety of leadership roles across the business, with
responsibilities managing globally distributed, multifunctional teams. Her
work earned Microsoft a 2010 WIAL Outstanding Organization Award
and a 2010 Workforce Management Optimas Award for Corporate
Citizenship. Shannon also was awarded the 2011 EFMD Excellence in
Practice Award for Executive Development and the 2013 Best Practice
Institute’s Top Practitioner Award for Talent Management.

Peter Cauwelier

Peter Cauwelier helps teams learn, grow, innovate, and take ownership of
their own and their company’s future. His Team.As.One approach focuses
both on the team’s heart (the connections that support team dynamics) and
the team’s hard (the business results).

Peter is a Master Action Learning Coach and a member of the WIAL
board since 2014 and manages the WIAL affiliate in Thailand. In addition
to action learning Peter uses other approaches to help teams become more
effective. He is a Certified Professional Facilitator (IAF), Belbin Team
Roles accredited facilitator, and Certified Team Performance Coach (Team
Coaching International). He has 20 years of experience in operations
management, with responsibilities with multicultural teams across Asia.
He works with teams in English, French, or Thai.

Peter received a PhD in Knowledge and Innovation Management from
Bangkok University, an executive MBA from Boston University, and
Master of Science degrees from the University of Manchester and Ghent



Choon Seng Ng

Choon Seng Ng is the Managing Director of WIAL Singapore, the official
international affiliate of WIAL. He is a Master Action Learning Coach and
was a board member with the World Institute for Action Learning from
2013 to 2015. Choon Seng has conducted action learning programs for
many organizations in Singapore and has also certified many action
learning coaches throughout Asia. He was instrumental in establishing
many WIAL affiliates in Asia. Through his leadership, WIAL Singapore
won the WIAL Affiliate of the Year in 2015.

Choon Seng received his Master of Arts degree in Human Resource
Development from George Washington University. He was also awarded
the Leonard Nadler Leadership Award for his outstanding leadership,
service, and professional and academic successes. Choon Seng is the
author of What’s Your Question? Inspiring Possibilities through the Power
of Questions.

In addition to his coaching, Choon Seng is also a Certified Professional
Facilitator and Certified Assessor with the International Association of
Facilitators (IAF). He is concurrently the Chief Facilitator and Process
Consultant with Inquiring Dialogue, working with clients from all sectors
to increase their organizational effectiveness and employee engagement.



Action learning has quickly emerged as a tool used by organizationsfor solving their critical and complex problems. It has concurrentlybecome a primary methodology utilized by companies around the world
for developing leaders, building teams, and improving corporate
capabilities. Action learning programs have become instrumental in
creating thousands of new products and services, saving billions of dollars,
reducing production and delivery times, expanding customer bases,
improving service quality, and positively changing organizational cultures.
Recent surveys by the American Society for Training and Development
indicate that two-thirds of executive leadership programs in the United
States used action learning. A study by the Corporate Executive Board
(2009) noted that 77 percent of learning executives identified action
learning as the top driver of leadership bench strength. Business Week
identified action learning as the “latest and fastest growing organizational
tool for leadership development” (Byrnes, 2005).

Since Reg Revans introduced action learning in the 1940s, there have
been multiple variations of the concept, but all forms of action learning


share the elements of real people resolving and taking action on real
problems in real time and learning while doing so. The great attraction of
action learning is its unique power to simultaneously solve difficult
challenges and develop people and organizations at minimal costs to the
institutions. Rapidly changing environments and unpredictable global
challenges require organizations and individuals to both act and learn at
the same time.

Global Leadership Development with Action Learning at

The Boeing Company, the world’s leading aerospace company, is a
global market leader in missile defense, human space flight, and launch
services, with customers in 145 countries, employees in more than 60
countries, and operations in 26 states. Boeing adopted action learning
as the methodology for its Global Leadership Program, since action
learning enabled the company to build critical global competencies
while solving its most critical problems. Results from a comprehensive
assessment of the program indicated that action learning has been
remarkably successful in developing a forum for senior-level
executives to learn while being challenged with real corporate issues
related to the international environment in which they were placed.

What Is Action Learning?

Briefly defined, action learning is a powerful problem-solving tool that has
the amazing capacity to simultaneously build successful leaders, teams,
and organizations. It is a process that involves a small group working on
real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as
an organization while doing so. Action learning has six components, each
of which is described below and presented in greater detail over the next
six chapters of this book.

The Six Components of Action Learning

A problem. Action learning centers on a problem, project, challenge,


opportunity, issue, or task, the resolution of which is of high
importance to an individual, team, or organization. The problem
should be significant and urgent, and it should be the responsibility of
the team to solve it. It should also provide an opportunity for the group
to generate learning opportunities, build knowledge, and develop
individual, team, and organizational skills. Groups may focus on a
single problem of the organization or multiple problems introduced by
individual group members.
An action learning group or team. The core entity in action learning is
the action learning group. Ideally the group is composed of four to
eight individuals who examine an organizational problem that has no
easily identifiable solution. The group should have members with a
diversity of background and experience to acquire various
perspectives and encourage fresh viewpoints. Depending on the
problem, group members may:

Be volunteers or be appointed
Be from various functions or departments


Include individuals from other organizations or professions
Involve suppliers as well as customers

A working process of insightful questioning and reflective listening.
Action learning emphasizes questions and reflection above statements
and opinions. By focusing on the right questions rather than the right
answers, action learning groups become aware of what they do not
know as well as what they do know. Questions build group
cohesiveness, generate innovative and systems thinking, and enhance
learning results. Leadership skills are built and implemented through
questions and reflection. Insightful questions enable a group first to
clarify the exact nature of the problem before jumping to solutions.
Action learning groups recognize that great solutions will be contained
within the seeds of great questions.
Actions taken on the problem. Action learning requires that the group
be able to take action on the problem it is working on. 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 lacking
essential information). If the group only makes recommendations, it
loses its energy, creativity, and commitment. There is no real
meaningful or practical learning until action is taken and reflected on,
for one is never sure an idea or plan will be effective until it has been
implemented. Action enhances learning because it provides a basis
and anchor for the critical dimension of reflection. The action of
action learning begins with reframing the problem and determining the
goal, only then determining strategies and taking action.
A commitment to learning. Unless the group learns, it may not be able
to creatively solve a complex problem. And although solving an
organizational problem provides immediate, short-term benefits to the
company, the greater, longer-term, multiplier benefits are the long-
term learnings gained by each group member and the group as a
whole, as well as how those learnings are applied on a systems-wide
basis throughout the organization. Thus, the learning that occurs in
action learning may have greater strategic value for the organization
than what is gained by the tactical advantage of solving the immediate
problem. Accordingly, action learning places the same emphasis on


the learning and development of individuals and the team as it does on
the solving of problems, for the smarter the group becomes, the
quicker and better will be its decision-making and action-taking
An action learning coach. Coaching is necessary for the group to
focus on the important (i.e., the learnings) as well as the urgent (i.e.,
resolving the problem). The action learning coach helps the team
members reflect on …

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