Multi-National Company – Action Learning and Innovation


A multi-national company operating container shipping terminals around the world and part of a larger container shipping and logistics company. The company had tried traditional leadership development programmes and had some strategic challenges from competitors and the market. The CEO and Directors had been introduced to the concept of action learning from a trade journal and where keen to try a new way of responding to the challenges they faced. They approached three organisations to tender for the project. We were successful in that we believe in building the organization capacity to be their own consultants rather than build a dependency on us as the consultants.  In the first year we ran the project entirely, the second and third years trained others within the company to co deliver the programme and in the final two years offered supervision and trained internal supervisors. The programme continues internally to our delight.

The objectives and results

The programme that was commissioned lasted for 5 years and was developed to address some of the complex international problems. The programme was to address three issues and resulted in the following:

  1. The improvement of international / intercultural working by reducing the existing business silos. This succeeded demonstrated by the ongoing collaboration the networks formed during the 5 years between sites within/without countries and across cultures.
  2. Innovation of processes that are commercially driven. This succeeded demonstrated by 43 innovation projects including new processes, markets and services introduced and embedded in the organisation.
  3. Develop leaders at both local and global level. This succeeded with 80/150 local managers successfully gaining promotion over the 5-year period and 30 making sideways moves. 10 left the organization due to re-structuring and the remaining 30 grew their own ports and therefore their own roles. Out of the global managers 70/100 moved position, 10 left the organization due to restructuring and 20 grew their existing role.

The programme

Each year over the five years two cohorts took part, the first cohort a group of 30 local port managers and the second a cohort of 18 global managers.

The programme lasted one year for each group and consisted of:

  1. Taught input sessions: on innovation, customer service, leadership, strategy. These three x one-week taught inputs were held in different locations around the world.
  2. Understanding of local culture: Participants were able to work with local counterparts during the week to gain an understanding of the local culture and operations.
  3. Team Projects: The Directors each identified a process that required an innovative rather than incremental solution. Teams of six participants in each cohort choose an innovation driven project to work on which was outside their normal work role.
  4. Action learning: The projects lasted for one year and action learning was the methodology chosen to manage the projects and the individuals learning.
  5. Individual learning: Alongside the programme each individual took part in a 360 degree feedback process, and from the feedback from managers, colleagues and subordinates developed with a coach a development programme. The coach met with the participant at two monthly intervals to work on how the action learning programme and projects were impacting on their development a managers and leaders.
  6. Mentors: As the cohorts completed the programme they were trained as mentor for the next cohort in order to cross fertilize the learning from one cohort to the next.

The project leader and facilitator

Christine Abbott is a Director of the Centre for Action Learning Facilitation. She has held senior posts in both the private and public sector at Director and Board level More recently she has been engaged in action learning facilitation across Europe, Morocco, Syria, China, Japan, Egypt, USA, Brazil and Argentina. Christine wrote, the action learning qualification standards for the UK Qualification and Curriculum Framework and has developed and delivered facilitator training to build organizational capacity globally. Christine, a former chairman, is a Director and Trustee of the Institute for Leadership and Management.