Action Learning to support cultural change

A leadership development programme was designed for all Adults Services Senior Social Workers across this UK Local Government Authority. The aim was to build leadership capacity across the organisation so that they could effectively respond to the emerging organisational and professional challenges in the social work environment, including cuts to budgets, joint working with the health service and new and developing social work practices which would require critical reflective practice.

The programme aimed to contribute to the achievement of the organisation’s and the social work profession’s aims whilst developing a desired culture for the future.

Materials designed for the programme

We designed materials for the programme to reflect the aims and outcomes.  It was important to relate the programme to professional standards the KSS and PCF in social work so that participants could use the evidence from the programme for their professional portfolio. These materials in the programme handbook incorporated tools that could be used in the future e.g. CVF .

The programme was designed with the organisation’s key leads and stakeholders and was comprised of 4 distinct phases as follows:

Stage 1

Identify and map the current organisational and leadership culture by distributing a Competing Values Framework Questionnaire to all participants. This tool enables organisations to assess and diagnose existing organizational cultures and identify existing organisational gaps. It gives a classification of four corporate cultures, which indicate how a company operates, how employees collaborate and what the corporate values are.

Stage 2

Participants were selected from across adults’ services and senior manager sponsors were also identified from the departments and specialisms across the organisation. Workshops were held with participants and programme sponsors to review the data collected and to support a better understanding what they needed to change in their organisation’s culture and how they could achieve better alignment between the different cultures mapped trough the Competing Values Framework.

In this workshop they also received an overview of the whole programme including an introduction to action learning, and facilitated session where they could identify, and agree the organisational challenges and opportunities that the programme will work on and address whilst creating the desired culture.

Separate workshops were held with participants and with programme sponsors so that they could explore the will and commitment required for the programme to be successful. andfully understood their responsibilities and how they could best work together and support each other throughout the duration of the programme.

Stage 3

The 24 participants were invited to join 4 action learning groups, and they self-selected which of the groups they would like to join based on predetermined criteria for diversity of membership. Each set met for a day for a total of 6 meetings taking place every six weeks. The aim of the action learning groups was to identify and plan a mini project that they felt they could engage in that would address the gaps identified though the Competing Values framework.

Four projects were identified, researched, planned and either partially or fully completed during the project’s timescale. These 4 projects were as follows:

Set 1 – Developing a Coaching Culture

Set 2 – High Quality Supervision

Set 3 – Establishing a Senior Practitioner Forum

Set 4 – Senior Practitioner Peer Support

Midway through the action learning set programme,  a lunchtime workshop was held for participants, sponsors and stakeholders to review progress and capture organisational learning. It allowed space for participants to meet and share with sponsors information and knowledge about the organisation from the projects and the learning groups. It was at this workshop where the groups took up the valuable opportunity to communicate some sensitive organisational concerns that they had identified through their projects to the senior leaders of the organization. Sensitive information about an inherent feeling of ‘lack of trust in the organisation’ which everyone present acknowledged may not have been uncovered or understood had the action learning programme not had taken place. Through the Centre for Action Learning facilitation at this workshop, this communication of ‘truth to power’ was not only respected but also heard and acted on by senior leaders in the organization who took steps to address this underlying cultural concern.

Stage 4 – Final event

The final stage of the porgramme included a ‘summit’with sponsors, participants and managers where learning from the projects and whole porgramme could be shared. This was also an opportunity to celebrate success and recognise the cultural changes that the programme participants had been instrumental in achieving.