Action Learning Case Studies

learning cycleNow you’ve read about action learning as individualised leadership development and seen what action learning looks like in practice, let’s explore some case studies of how people have used the opportunity to step up as a leader.  Bear in mind that these have been anonymised for confidentiality as specific details cannot be shared.

These are representative of hundreds of examples that I could have chosen – think of a wicked issue that you are struggling to make a breakthrough on, and there you have an example of what you could bring to an action learning set.

And remember, action learning is also about what the group is learning about how they support and challenge each other.  Not only does each person take away actions for their own issue, but they also learn from each others’ issues AND they learn how to coach and give feedback, which that can transfer straight back into the workplace.  Mature groups also figure out how they each show up in a team; and how they might need to moderate or alter their individual behaviour in groups they belong to in the workplace as well.

Action Learning Case Study one:  a senior manager in a restructure

His issue – wanting to support this team through a re-structure, when he himself was leaving

What we did

  • The group asked him questions that enabled him to identify what was really important to him about supporting his staff in this time of change
  • They helped him to normalise his feelings of betrayal at leaving his team behind
  • They supported him to figure out what to do next
  • In the debrief, we acknowledged the importance of recognising an individual’s feelings, even when those feelings might seem illogical from the outside

His outcomes

  • Four weeks later, he stated that the action learning helped him to see what was really going on for him
  • He had been able to run workshops to support his team members and others to state their own needs and put their best foot forward in this time of change
  • He had worked out what he must complete during his final weeks, and what could drop
  • He had identified how to make a good ending, psychologically

Action Learning Case Study two:  a manager in a sales role

Her issue – wanting to build a better relationship with a client

What we did

  • The group asked questions that helped her to identify why this relationship was important
  • Following her train of thought, they then probed to get her to outline the obstacles that were preventing the relationship from florishing
  • She continued to work out what she could try out with her client, to get over these obstacles
  • She committed to several actions
  • In the debrief, the group recognised that they wanted to give advice, but that the individual came up with some of the ideas for herself, which meant she would more likely follow through on them; and she came up with other ideas that were very relevant to her in her context, that they had not come up with – so she ended up with more ideas that fitted her situation

Her outcomes

  • When we next met, she told the group that the relationship felt better and her efforts had led to some additional work

Action Learning Case Study three:  a stuck Managing Director

Her issue – thinking creatively about an element of her project that she was stuck on

What we did

  • the group listened as she got clear for herself about the scope of the issue
  • one of the group encouraged her to start drawing.  This opened up an exploration that she hadn’t expected.  She quickly got some new ideas and decided on her next steps
  • In review, the group discussed the power of drawing and how they might apply it in meetings back in the workplace

Her outcomes – she took her recommendations to her steering committee and her refined picture generated even more ideas that were good for employees and good for business


These case studies are representative only – there are so many wicked issues that an individual could bring to their action learning set to chew over.  Often the issues are important but not yet urgent; but the individual knows that they will become urgent if left unattended.  Action Learning sets give them the time and space to think through the issues that count in the long-run.