Action Learning – a personal experience

Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 15.51.52.pngAndrea Wood, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist, RHSC/RHCYP. NHS Lothian

I am lucky to be one of the few in this year’s Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) Career Fellowships through NES (NHS Education for Scotland). NES supports us to develop ourselves through leading a project that will improve services for those that use our service With this they are providing some study days where all the fellows can meet, share experience, concerns and generally support each other. We have the opportunity to learn from leaders in varying fields on topics that will help with quality improvement, project management and the skills that, as clinicians, we may not have much exposure to.

They introduced us to action learning sets. I am generally a sceptic with these kinds of things, thinking they are a bit touchy feely, hand holding and how are they going to help me grow and learn. I am a girl of action and deal with consequences after; I have never seen myself as being good at reflection. Reflection was always something we had to do at university and I generally do in my head and definitely not something I was comfortable with doing publically.  It was explained that there are rules and it’s not about solving the problems raised by the presenter. With the use of probing questions the aim is to encourage the presenter to view the issue differently and come up with an action plan. 

Working in the NHS you are always there trying to get the best solutions for the families and individuals you work with – we are problem solvers by nature. So how am I going to phrase questions and not make statements or give solutions? This was going to be a challenge.

During the first Action learning group we had two brave presenters. I found myself carefully listening to what was said and watching reactions/ body language.  I needed to think very carefully before speaking to ensure I was not leading or answering their problem; trying to encourage them to think differently and work through the problem with support. I was seeing their issue from a different perspective. It was strangely emotional to watch the presenters and how their thinking changed over the process – some even had light bulb moments. 

After this, when a colleague had a problem I found myself using some of the approaches that I had used during the action learning group. Could there actually be something in this? Had I started to change my thought processes? 

We recently had our second set of study days and we had another action learning set.  This time I bit the bullet and braved my fear of public speaking and presented an issue.  It was terrifying. It was not that my problem was life-changing or big in the scheme of things. It was something that had happened in my project, the experience had upset and disappointed me. How I was going to overcome it was unclear. While presenting I became quite emotional and instead of feeling stupid for being emotional the process let me see that it was because I was passionate about my project and angry over the issue. The group probed with powerful questions and listened. It encouraged me to see the positives and I came away with an action plan that was workable, I felt strangely empowered.

The process gave me an opportunity to self critique in a way that I would never have done if I had used traditional reflection methods or just discussed with my mentor. Am I a convert to the touchy feely? Maybe, but it has made me realise that I should not judge things before I try especially when it’s in an aspect I recognise as something I could improve in myself. Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 15.56.47.png





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