What I’ve Learned about Organizational Change

In this course, we read about and discussed several different theories and models of organizational change. We also read about and experienced three large group interventions. As I reflect now, I find that there are a few ideas and concepts which have helped to influence both my understanding and point-of-view about organizational change.

Two concepts that have helped me to structure the way I interpret organizational change are transactional change and transformational change. Beyond the definition of these are the related concepts which help to describe and identify the manifestations of these two distinct forms of change. Transactional change is evolutionary, planned, incremental change that is continuous in nature. It affects the climate of an organization rather than the culture. It usually involves changes in operational practices related to structure, systems, and task requirements. It is also usually management driven. It impacts individual needs and values, and motivation (Burke, 2008). Transformational change is revolutionary, strategic, and discontinuous in nature. It influences the culture of an organization, usually involving changes in mission and vision and is driven by leadership.

Armed with that information and having had the opportunity to examine an organizational change within my own company, I feel I am better equipped to recognize and interpret organizational changes around me. I will also be better able to offer a more informed opinion when I do have the opportunity to participate in planning and implementing change strategies at work.

The Burke-Litwin model of organizational change has helped me to understand the different dimensions that affect and are interrelated in the change process. This model also helped to impress on me the importance of the external environment as a catalyst for change in organizations. There is also a cyclical relationship between the output of an organization (products and services) and the external environment which in turn, informs change within organizations.

I have learned that just as a person’s basic assumptions influence their behavior, an organization’s culture is built on shared basic assumptions of the leadership and employees. These shared assumptions influence norms, values, and behaviors within an organization. This course has helped me understand the resistance that most often follows change, as it is the result of wanting to hold on to the familiar ways of doing things that employees have come to ‘own’ and to identify with. I found the way that Burke (2008) distinguishes between the three levels of organizational change helped to clarify my understanding of the complex and overlapping manifestations of organizational change. This will be especially useful as I learn to understand and identify different forms of resistance to change.

With all of the difficulty associated with implementing organizational change, it has been reassuring to learn that it can be thoughtfully planned and managed in ways that will benefit the organization and minimize resistance. To this point, an idea that was an ‘aha’ for me is the fact that, in order to change attitudes and values you must first begin with a behavior. A related idea that I learned is that you cannot change the culture of an organization by focusing on changing it. Rather, behavior will gradually influence culture. I know the leadership of my own organization has tripped over this point in their efforts to change the culture. Burke (2008) points out that it is important to establish links between the vision (the end point) and actions (behaviors) that will create that change. He also shares the ideas of Wegner & Wheatly which include the notion that behavior is followed by cognition.

In this course we reviewed Lewins’ ideas on organizational change that include ‘unfreezing, movement, and refreezing’, which has to do with moving from the current state, learning a new behavior, and reinforcing and maintaining the new behavior. Burke (2008) mentions that Schein, among others, has offered a more expanded version of this process. His version relates to creating motivation and readiness to change, cognitive restructuring and the need to act differently, as well as personal and interpersonal integration of the change by organizational members.

The three large group intervention strategies that we learned about and experienced in class were examples of creative ways for people to work together to prompt Schein’s ‘cognitive restructuring’ by involving whole systems. These strategies included Future Search, Open Space, and Appreciative Inquiry. All three use whole systems thinking, involving everyone in making meaning together. I know I will look at organizational change differently because of my exposure to these strategies. In my experience, only those who are directly involved or affected by a change are ever consulted and even then it has usually been a member of leadership that makes the decisions. These large group strategies are dependent on everyone having input and making decisions. I believe involving the whole group is the only way to bring about appropriate and meaningful change.

I especially like the purposeful removal of barriers that is inherent in these strategies. Because they all depend on people being self directed and pretty much self-organizing, everyone has equal footing and status during these events. I also like the way Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search are vision-oriented. Participants get to share what they believe would be a desirable future state and work on those things for which they personally have a passion. It would seem just common sense that if a person really cares about a topic or an issue they will be that much more dedicated to working towards a solution and then maintaining that desired condition. I am already thinking of ways to incorporate one or more of these large group change strategies in my own work place.

Another aspect of these large group interventions that I have found enlightening is the great forum they provide for people in an organization to ‘think together’. As opposed to the structured and time-bound meetings that usually surround ‘brainstorming’ sessions, these strategies provide people with options to address those things they have a passion for and to have real conversations about those topics. This allows people to share and learn from each other and to make meaning, address differences, and at the very least gain some insight into what others think. I think this last aspect and the diversity of idea sharing is what attracts me most to these whole group interventions.

I must also point out that what I have experienced in this course, as well as throughout the adult learning program, has taught me a great deal. However, this knowledge only takes on its greatest effect when I am able to place it in the context of what I experience in my career. It’s the work of application and synthesis of the learning from both that creates the most meaning for me and has the greatest promise of leading to the discovery of new connections and relevance.



End of Program Reflection

End of Program Blog Post


            I hardly know where to begin to describe my experience in the adult learning program. My first course was ADLT 601, The Adult Learner. This course set the tone for things to come. We participated in activities that I had never experienced in a college course. We created a timeline of our life experiences around all the walls of the room and shared with the class the events that shaped our lives, both educationally and personally. We sat on the floor in a group and created a web with yarn as we tossed it from person-to- person and shared what we learned. This type of involvement in class was very new for me.

            In addition, the type of work has been different from what I was used to. Many of the discussions and papers were synthesis of different ideas, theories, and application experiences we had in class; not at all the fact-based recall that I was used to in other college classes. In most of my classes in this program I experienced the principles of adult learning at work in the classroom and not just in the text book. Experiential learning, reflection, metacognition, and corporately and independently creating meaning are some of the most important concepts I take away from this program. In addition, working in groups and teams has been a large part of this program and for that I am most grateful. I am in a position at work where I need to influence people all across the organization, yet I have no real authority to do so. Much of what I have learned and experienced in this program has prepared me to do just that. I have learned about process consulting and action learning through actually applying those skills in real world situations.

            This form of learning has had a great impact on me. I have experienced every part of the different processes, worked through the difficult and uncomfortable situations, and dealt with people at various levels in their own development in order to accomplish sometimes quite daunting tasks. I have learned to look at where others are in their understanding and motivation and consider what their needs are, in addition to the needs of the project I am focused on. I have also learned that sometimes it is important to let people run into a wall or even fail at a task in order for them to experience ‘real learning’. It is the learning that is the point, rather than the particular project. This was impressed on me during our capstone class where the point of our work was our action learning experience and the learning that the set gained, not the solution of the presenting problem or even the ‘work’ of the project.

            Another important concept this program has taught me is the meaning of a learning organization. In my workplace, that term means that the organization has lots of training courses to offer and that it supports its employee’s educational endeavors. I have learned that a learning organization can develop as employees learn together in real world situations, through application, practice, and reflection and as they then share their learning throughout the organization. I have also discovered that a learning organization can not be ‘created’ in a short time by any action of the leadership. Rather, it has to be nurtured, encouraged, supported and demonstrated over time and that ‘behavior begets behavior change’. People have to experience this type of learning in order to understand it and an organization is the same.

            I have especially appreciated the emphasis on reflection as a part of the learning process. This has been both taught and required in each adult learning class. The use of the blogs for this purpose has been very effective for me. I am usually the last one to journal or write my thoughts and feelings down. However, somehow the forum of the blog made that process less painful for me. The fact that it was required course work didn’t hurt either. I know that my experiences in this program have changed my behavior in this area. I now make a point of taking the time to reflect on experiences and new information. Again I must refer to my experience in the program with the many group projects. I have learned to enjoy working in groups and I believe I learn more effectively when I have others to share with and from which to gain their perspectives. This is something I have learned to incorporate at work as well. 

            It was very helpful to learn to consider and pay attention to the basic assumptions from which people operate. Before this program I had only a vague understanding about the fact that people have different perspectives which are created by their knowledge and life experiences. As I learned in this program, reality is created based on the basic assumptions that people and organizations hold. The fact that these assumptions are so ingrained in one’s thinking and the culture of an organization that they are just taken for granted was enlightening to me. I was really struck when I read that these assumptions are so much a part of the fabric of behavior that if someone does something different it would seem completely inappropriate and out of place that everyone would notice and would not be able to understand that behavior. It was as if a light turned on for me at that point.

            I have always wondered why social behavior among different groups can be so distinct and how people of different groups could be so convinced that certain ideas and behaviors were right and others were wrong. Now when I look at the behaviors of people and organizations I find myself wondering about the shared basic assumptions that lie beneath behavior and culture and about what behaviors serve to reinforce those basic assumptions. I also think about how to help people begin to consider these things as well, in both themselves and in others. I now think about how to help people learn to take an objective look at these assumptions. Another change in me that I have noticed is that these days I at least think about the basic assumptions I hold and that inform my own behavior and perspective. I also am more aware of the fact that I need to be willing to separate my emotional attachment to my own way of thinking and find ways to be more objective about those basic assumptions and behaviors.

            There were a couple of other pivotal events that happened in the program that strengthened some of those basic assumptions and beliefs that I knowingly and purposefully hold. One of these events was seeing the movie Mind Walk. Because my beliefs are so contrary to many others, I won’t go into detail about this except to say that that movie helped me understand, at least to some degree, how people can get so far away from truth that they no longer believe there is any truth. This is the greatest deception perpetrated among men.

            A few courses were especially relevant to the work I do including ADLT 610- Consulting Skills, ADLT 620-Human Resource Development and ADLT 602-Adult Program Planning, Management & Evaluation. Often the projects in these classes enabled me to have authentic experiences as they matched up well to things I was working on in my job. This made the learning that much more relevant for me and gave me concrete evidence of the effectiveness of the skills I was able to practice.

            Another important change in me as a result of this program is my awareness of adult learning and organizational development theory. I have been exposed to, read about, researched, and written about the people and events that have shaped these fields. In addition, I have developed a strong interest in researching these topics on my own. There is a long list of books I want to buy and read in my Amazon shopping cart, all of which are about those two topics. I also fully intend to review many of the textbooks we used in this program to refresh my memory. As I mentioned, I find that being able to put the concepts and ideas we learned in authentic situations is the best way to learn and to stretch my understanding.

            I am also more keenly aware of what others around me have to teach me. I now make it a point to not only listen to other’s ideas, but to observe their actions and ask them questions. It seems that my experience in this program has served to awaken my senses in regard to the give-and-take that we can take advantage of if we pay attention to our own learning and take an interest in the learning of others. This may seem odd for a former teacher to say, yet it is true that I used to only look for this type of learning to take place in a classroom or when gathering new information was a designated purpose. This program has helped me to pay attention to the learning that happens in me and around me all the time.

            I recognize there is yet much to learn about adult learning and organizational development, however I feel that this program has certainly given me a frame of reference from which to move forward. It has also provided a foundation on which to build as I continue to gain knowledge, reflect on and make meaning of experience, and share with others. If I had to choose one word to describe what this program has given me, I think the most suitable word would be ‘awareness’. I know I am not fully aware and I will never be in this life, but I am definitely more aware, having had the great fortune of being in this adult learning program.

Reflections on Open Space Experience

Our group used the methodology of Harrison Owen to conduct an abbreviated Open Space Technology intervention experience in class. The theme of this event was ‘Outrageous Leadership’. Our goal was to give the group the flavor of Open Space, as well as to bring about a more personal understanding of the process and its effect.

As is always the case, the experience of teaching others and demonstrating the concepts of this change strategy served to bring about a deeper level of understanding. Even though each of us in the presenting group were responsible for different aspects of the process, being part of the discussions, organizing, and planning enabled me to interact and grapple with the concept personally, intellectually, and physically.  As Jane Vella (1999) teaches, when learners have the opportunity to interact with the information and apply it in some situation, learning takes place.

                Owen’s (2008) explanation of the creation of Open Space shows that this strategy was developed out of a struggle to make learning meaningful, as well as to actively and personally involve learners. The structure of this large group intervention is also very simple and built on intuitive social behaviors which are easily understood. The use of labels and signs around the room created an easily followed explanation of the process.  The fact that they remained in place and visible throughout the event enabled participants to refer to them as needed, which helped to construct and organize new learning. 

Having participants begin in a circle to remove barriers of status and rank encourages mutual respect and creates an environment where everyone’s ideas matter. In our experience, this arrangement seemed a little uncomfortable for some in the beginning, however I attribute that to the uniqueness of the situation and the fact that as students we are used to the comfort of a desk or table creating our own individual space, in some way representing our independence from others. Our group did warm up to the arrangement and was able to talk and share freely.

Perhaps the best consequence of this method is that it creates the necessity for groups to be self organizing and fosters self-directed learning. Participants are given the responsibility for their own learning and are in a position in which they need input from and interaction with others. Dialogue is the medium through which learning takes place in Open Space and meaning is created both corporately and individually as ideas and perspectives are shared, reevaluated, and formed.

The concept of Open Space is built on bringing the whole system in the room (or at least representing the whole system among the participants) and creating a forum for people to interact and discover meaning together. In an actual event, participants must be volunteers, have a passion about the theme, as well as a stake in the outcome of the process. The issue must be a real business issue with no known solution. This requirement creates the need for dialogue and for participants to work together to share and understand everyone’s perspective and needs.

In this experiential Open Space event, everyone did have some passion around leadership, as we were all in similar graduate studies and are all employed in organizations where we either are leaders or have leaders which impact our daily lives. The ‘business need’ for which we were working was the larger concept of leadership, what it is, and what is could be. While it took a few minutes for people to begin to respond, we did have a good number of people volunteer to take responsibility for their ideas and sign up to convene meetings. 

When the group went to the market place to sign up for meetings there seemed to be one or two topics which generated the most interest. As in real Open Space events, we also had a couple of topics for which there were no takers. Our small group conversations were few, but each group seemed to have in depth, constructive discussions.  We did not have any butterflies or bumble bees emerge, however this is probably due to the abbreviated nature of the event. I suspect that if we had a larger group of participants and more realistic time frames there would have been a few of each in the room.

The participants in this event did go to the ‘newsroom’ and record their discussions and recommendations which enabled the whole group to have access to everyone’s thinking. As this was a sample event, there were not many ‘next steps’ in the recommendations that could be owned by anyone. However, reading the ideas that came out of the discussions can inspire further thinking, knowledge construction, and possibly some future action toward those recommendations.

Actual Open Space events would last for three days and would most likely involve a greater number of people. There would generally be a greater diversity of participants and points of view, which is what gives this intervention strategy energy. Even given our limited number, I believe our participants were able to experience the general atmosphere of such an event.

One of the activities that our group conducted in the subsequent debrief session was to have participants compare and contrast their Future Search experience with the Open Space experience. This led to good conversations about the appropriateness of each strategy, as well as similarities and differences. It was pointed out that Future Search has more structure and is probably easier to ‘sell’ to organizational leadership than Open Space, which has less structure. However, neither strategy can offer any conclusions as to what the final outcome will be, as they are both driven by the interests and ideas of the participants. The group also discussed the future-state orientation of Future Search, as opposed to the participant led agenda of Open Search which could lead almost anywhere.

During the debrief meeting we talked about the possibility of using parts of the Open Space structure in meetings. This is an interesting idea and one that has also been discussed in some of the literature. Our group also discussed the possibility of using Open Space virtually. There were ideas on both sides of this issue. Some felt that it could be adapted in this way and others felt that not being able to interact in person might take away from the ability to read body language and other social cues that help communicate so much more that just spoken words.

I learned a great deal through this experience and I believe that it was also valuable for the entire class. I certainly have begun thinking about ways both Future Search and Open Space could be used in my own organization. Our next large group intervention strategy event was Appreciative Inquiry. To date, we have only had the in class sample experience. After we have the debrief session in class next week I will add my impressions and ideas about that change strategy as well.

The Long, Hard Road

           The Capstone action learning project has been quite an experience. It began with learning about action learning and reflective questioning and listening. Then came getting to know our set members and practicing the action learning process. This was very awkward and forced at first. Learning to ask questions instead of making statements was not easy. It involved more than just training yourself to frame everything in a question. I had to begin by becoming aware of my own thoughts. I had to try to stop the life long habit of thinking ahead about my response while the other person is still talking in order to make myself focus on really listening. This is not easy and I clearly have not mastered this skill. Next, I had to learn to pay attention to and reflect on the learning of the group, in addition to the content of the conversations. This was also a challenge. I am still working to maintain this focus during set meetings.

            It is an interesting and positive aspect of action learning to begin set meetings by identifying a leadership skill that we want to focus on. I agree with Marquardt (2004) that the subconscious does continue to consider and mull over thoughts after they are no longer in the forefront of our minds. Speaking out the leadership skill that we want to improve is a sure way of getting it into our subconscious, as well as to help us to practice that skill, or at least pay attention to our use of it during set meetings.

            Of course the temptation to leave much of the reflective learning and questioning behind is great when it become ‘crunch-time’ and projects must be pulled together. However, in spite of this temptation, I believe our group continued to remember the tenants of action learning and usually did include them at every set meeting.

            I find that this kind of metacognition of both our own thinking while part of a group and the group’s collective thinking is really an important skill to learn. I know that having experienced this at work in our set meetings has made an impression on me and I now find myself realizing mid-conversation that I am thinking about what I am thinking and about the meaning that I and whoever else is in the conversation are making together. I will admit that I have always had a bent towards trying to figure out what motivates people and why they behave the way they do. It is, of course good for me to do the same for myself – ala – metacognition.

            As our time winds down and our timeline is extremely short, I find I am a lot less inclined to make the time for the reflective questioning and thinking that is necessary. I know that I will be very interested in that after the big presentation is over and we consider what went well, what did not, what lessons were learned, and what struggles were overcome – or not. There is a balance that has to be struck between being an action learning set and focusing on the reflective questioning and listening and being a problem solving group. I know that problem solving is not the purpose, however it must exist to some extent in order to get the work done.    

            At this point in our experience, I find it interesting that our final product requires so much problem solving type of work in order to be appropriate and useful even though that part of the process is really supposed to take a back seat in favor of action learning. I understand that it is our learning that really matters and what the client gets is really just a vehicle for our action learning experience. Yet, it sure doesn’t feel that way now.

            I’ll see how I feel in a week when it is all over.

Reflections on Future Search Experience

Reflections on In-Class Future Search Experience


            Having read the Future Search book and experienced the abbreviated exercise in the classroom I see a great deal of similarities between Future Search and Open Space Technology. The differences are clear as well. Having whole groups participate together to experience the event and the discovery and sharing of themselves is a common theme. Also, having the whole group work together on common task and develop concrete actions plans is also similar in both strategies. Including stakeholders from within and outside of the company is also a tactic that both strategies share.

            I understand the premise of getting people to think about their lives in the context of time and of whatever the topic is at hand. This again, gives everyone the opportunity to offer their own perspective, as well as learn about the perspectives of others in the room in order to discover common ground and to learn about how each group impacts or is impacted by the topic or situation at hand.

            I liked the mind-mapping of the important trends and topics that impact the topic at hand and the sharing of each group with the entire group offers everyone the chance to learn about the perspectives and the work of others in the room. The sharing of the ‘prouds’ and ‘sorries’ is also a very worthwhile activity, especially if it is done with a group of people working in the same environment/company. This could break down barriers which may be hindering groups from understanding and working together.

            I like the creative way our facilitators had each group imagine the future of the issue at hand from our own perspectives, as faculty, student, or alumni and then think through what the challenges and successes might be. It was both fun and telling to watch everyone dress up and illustrate the future they envisioned.

            Not having groups tackle the ‘how to’ in this setting is important. This would defiantly stop the creative visioning and side track people from the point of the experience. Like Open Space, people who feel passionate about some issue or task can take ownership of that and work to accomplish it when they are back in their own work environment.

            The experience of Future Search helps to get people to think outside of their usual constraints and to consider perspectives of others. I like the way it enables people to vision together about the future and meld their different experiences together as they work through this process. I believe it encourages global and systems thinking as each person learns from their team mates how changes may impact others and other systems.

            The debrief session the following week was well organized. The Future Search team was able to share the theory and history behind Future Search, as well as expand on the different elements of the process. It was interesting to learn that this intervention works with a group as small as 32 participants and is not only appropriate with larger groups. The team shared some good examples of how this intervention has been implemented and a few ways to use parts of Future Search in other whole group interventions. I know that our group on Open Space will talk compare the two interventions and I even have an example of both of them being used together. I really appreciate the work the Future Search team did in preparing this experience for t he class and how knowledgeable they were on the topic.

Reflections on Action Learning 3-15-09

Our set group is working with the READ Center – a non-profit, adult literacy agency. In addition to the reflective inquiry  that we practice during out set meetings,  we have been involved in doing some research in literature, observing classes taught through the READ Center, observing  tutor training classes, and interviewing learners, teachers and tutors,  as well as the agency director.  Through our reflection and questioning we have considered the presenting problem of learner persistence. We have tried to understand the perspective of everyone involved in the work at the READ Center, as well as to discover our own interpretation.  We have considered the possibility that the reasons commonly identified for inconsistent learner persistence, which usually fall on the learner’s side of the equation, may not offer the complete picture. It may be that part of the problem may be the result of program structure, personnel behavior, curriculum, or any number of other factors which could be within the influence of the program providers. In this way, we are able to reframe the presenting problem.

                I understand that the purpose of this project is to give us the experience of using action learning skills to work on a real problem that is embedded in the work of an organization. I will admit that sticking to the requirement that we only talk in response to questions or to ask questions is very awkward. It does allow us to explore areas that would normally be overlooked, however it also requires us to hold our tongue and not just share every thought that enters our minds. As a group I believe we are trying hard to adjust to this form of thinking and sharing, however it can be frustrating at times.

                In addition, I keep having to fight the feeling (in truth panic) that we are not going to be able to adequately address the problem through this uncomfortable process. I am having to walk in faith at this point and take the word of the Dr. Carter and the author of our books, Michael Marquardt, that this will not only lead to our learning about action learning first hand, but also to some measure of success in solving the problem of the READ Center. Another issue that I struggle with is that I don’t feel that as a set, we are able to spend enough time together asking questions and reflecting on the process. Our busy lives, work schedules and other school related obligations keep us all from being able to spend a great deal of time together. However, I do see in the text that the face to face time requirements suggested in the text are not that great either. We do communicate electronically and use the wiki a great deal in order to keep in touch. However, it still all seems an odd way to work collectively. I am sure that this is the wave of the future given the increasing ‘global and mobile – (‘globility’ If I may) nature of the work world today.

                I think that I could not possibly have a better group of people to work with in this set. We all have different and complimentary talents with which to tackle this issue. Everyone is most cooperative and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish our goals. If only I had such people in my own department to work with! I am sure this will not only be a great learning experience for us all, but that we will be able to offer the READ Center a few useful suggestions for dealing with the persistence issues they face.

                On that note, I do wonder about how our client, Carol, will respond to our work. She seems to be somewhat skeptical that we will be able to come up with anything that they have not already considered or can afford to implement.  In our first meeting with her she seemed to have a preconceived idea of how we should work, what type of research we should employ, and that the problem is too big for us to really solve at all. I suspect that when we come to that final presentation she will be at least mentally shooting down most of our suggestions. I hope I am wrong, but this is just the impression I get from our conversations with her. We have our mid-point meeting with her this upcoming week and I will be personally interviewing her for her own insights on the persistence issue following that meeting. I hope to get a better understanding of what she is thinking from these meetings. At this point, I am choosing to be positive and hopeful.


ADLT 636 – Capstone Reflections

Action Learning field trip – Speaker: Dr. M. Marquardt at Academy of HRD pre-conference

                                             February 18, 2009


The trip to the AHRD conference was an enjoyable experience overall. The company was great and I enjoyed the fellowship a great deal. The train ride went right on schedule with no complications.

Dr. Marquardt’s presentation and facilitation was excellent. He is, of course, the foremost expert on action learning and is very skilled in facilitating that work. Much of the content of his speech was reflective of our text, however it was very valuable to hear him talk about it and relate his many experiences with facilitating action learning in many organizations and across many different countries and cultures.

His description of action learning included some of its most common uses including learning, solving problems, leadership development, team building, and changing culture. Dr. Marquardt pointed out that action learning is built on human nature and organizational dynamics. He also talked about how the process enhances systems thinking and can help to develop a learning organization and establish communities of practice. This point ties into what we are learning in our change skills class as well.

Dr. Marquardt did emphasize a few points that he feels are especially important to the success of the process. Among these points is the fact that if reflection is not taking place – learning is not taking place, which is why the role of the coach is so important in action learning. In the session we were able to watch an action learning set in action with Dr. Marquardt as the coach. This was very helpful to see. Prior to this I did not have a good understanding of the role of the coach. This demonstration made it clear to me that the coach is not working as a participant in the reflective questioning process, but rather is solely focused on the learning taking place in the group. The coach is monitoring the behaviors of the group and the process of reflection in order to facilitate learning. The script of coach questions that Dr. Marquardt gave us makes that point clear. These include: at the mid-point of the session: ‘How do you feel about our progress? What are we doing well? What can we do better? Do we have agreement on the problem? and at the end of the session: (to the presenter) What action are you going to take as a result of this session? Were you helped? How? (to the group) What did we do best as a group? How did everyone do on their leadership skill? What did everyone learn that they can apply in their lives/organization? Coaches have to learn to read the set members and intuitively feel the mood and atmosphere of the learning and guide the group toward effectiveness. It is apparent that being a good coach takes skill and lots of experience.

Later in the meeting we all have the change to participate in an abbreviated action learning set. I served as the coach in my set and learned that being a coach can be difficult. I found it difficult to keep my mind on monitoring the learning of the group and to not focus on the problem and the lively questions and statements in progress. I know I need much more experience with being a set coach.

Another important part of the process that he emphasized is the practice of identifying a leadership skill that the set members would like to develop in themselves and subsequent questioning by the coach on how each set member practiced that skill during the set meeting. This is a great way to not only develop that skill, but to help place that skill in the subconscious of each set member to ‘brew’ at some level while working on the problem at hand. I think that this idea of layering the development of concepts is actually very effective in my own experience.

As side note at this point is that I have been very impressed with the way that the teachers I have observed working with adult literacy through the READ Center use this technique as well. While working on a specific skill, they are all the while teaching so many other skills in quiet and uncelebrated ways. The constant messaging that goes on about a host of other topics and skills as a backdrop to the instruction at hand is such an effective means of reinforcing ideas and concepts.

This experience also reinforced some of the fundamentals of action learning that we have talked about in class. Among these points are some of the functional requirements of set meetings including the ideas that the purpose of action learning is to take actions, solve problems, and to learn, actions must carry accountability, a commitment to learning is required, and that the set must utilize all of the knowledge of the group, as well as programmed knowledge. It was also reinforced that great questions lead to great reflection.

Dr. Marquardt talked about many other important aspects of action learning and the theories upon which the process draws. A few other points that stuck with me include the fact that behavior brings about learning (we have to do something in order to best learn about it), in a set group don’t ask negative or leading questions, coaches have to dig for the feelings of the set members, the importance of the use of questions in developing leadership skills, the importance of reframing the problem and understanding the context of the problem is absolutely necessary to finding realistic solutions. We were also reminded that the seeds of a problem’s solutions are in the questions and that in order for action learning to be successful the set members must have the power to take action, a passion and a sense of urgency about solving the problem, as well as strategic knowledge about the situation. I know we have talked about many of these points in class as well, but somehow being involved in this experience reinforces them.

There was much more valuable information covered in this conference, as well as some interesting learning as a result of interacting with the other conference attendees and Dr. Marquardt himself. In this post I have focused on those things that I seemed to affect me the most. I find experiential learning like this to be the most affective learning for me. This field trip was extremely valuable and like Dr. Carter, I wish the entire class could have been able to attend.

Capstone Reflections

February 2, 2009


We met as a group for the first time to get to know each other. I am very happy about my team. Each of us has widely different experiences, but it seems that our shared interest in the project will knit us together. We are all on the introverted side and no one is interested in pushing their own views forward above the others. We shared our backgrounds verbally, as well as in written form on the group wiki page. Some of us are very organized and will keep the team on track, others are very hands on and like to get personally involved in the tasks at hand. I have high expectations for this group.

            As we shared our educational and work histories along with our different learning styles I was impressed with the collaborative feeling that each member or the team reflected. Each of us mentioned that we are willing to do whatever needs to be done to accomplish our tasks. We talked about a few of the immediate tasks that we needed to accomplish and each of us volunteered for the things with which we felt most comfortable. I think that the energy and determination of this group, as well as the flexibility and consideration the teams demonstrated are going enable us to tackle the work at hand.

            We met with our client (Carol Holmquest) at her office on January 29th. Carol is personable, experienced, and focused on adult literacy. She did a wonderful job of informing us about the work of the READ Center and of the problem with which she would like us to work. She asked us to share with her about our work and background. She mentioned that she was happy that we were able to approach the problem with ‘fresh eyes’ and perhaps would be able to come up with some innovative ideas.

            I must admit that I am a little overwhelmed at the monumental obstacles that this organization faces. To begin with, the learners come with such challenges. Most are working adults with families and many outside responsibilities. They come to the READ Center voluntarily to better prepare them for work and career opportunities. Carol said that up to 80% of them have learning disabilities, which is why they were not successful in school. The clientele includes people of ages ranging from eighteen to people in their seventies. The fact that a majority of them work at lower paying jobs means many have to work rather unyielding schedules and ever work at two or more part-time jobs. They have issues with child care, transportation, and time constraints. Many are also very mobile and often move around. This, of course all works against their making huge strides in their education.

            Carol also talked about the fact that the many of the participants have goals of achieving their GED or even getting into college as a result of their work at the READ Center. However, most are at such a basic level of literacy and have such disabilities that often those goals are unrealistic. At least unrealistic in the time frame that many of the participants anticipate.

            This point led us into a discussion on motivation. While many participants begin the program with high motivation based on their goals, as they become aware of the distance they must go to reach those goals, their drive wanes. Some participants have been working with the READ Center for as much as eight years, which I find just amazing. Yet many only attend sporadically and this deters the achievement of their goals even more.  We did ask about any recognition and reward that participants might receive for accomplishing milestones along the way. It seems that they have a group picnic each year and that there are sometimes small forms of recognition for learners along the way. However, Carol admitted that the issue of motivation was still one that she was working on.

            We talked about visiting sites and observing tutoring and teaching sessions, as well as our desire to interview students, tutors, and teachers. We were more than welcomed to do that when we could. Carol did mention that the learners were quite accustomed to having visitors during their classes because volunteer tutors often observed in preparation for working with the learners.

            At our meeting with Carol, we did have the opportunity to ask many questions in order to learn about the work of the center and to help clarify the problem with which we were being presented. Carol was very thoughtful and helpful. She gave us some materials to read and some ideas on relevant research to review. She seems genuinely excited about having our team work on this issue. I am confident that we will have a good working relationship with her as we move forward.

            Our team did not have an opportunity to reflect with each other following that meeting. I am looking forward to using action learning and questioning to reflect on that meeting and the challenges ahead. I know I have a lot to learn about using questions to solve issues, but I am looking forward to it. I realize that this post is more of a play-by-play of our meetings thus far, as opposed to an insightful reflection of what I am learning, but I am sure I will progress towards that in future posts.


ADLT 623 Final Reflections

     I really enjoyed this class. The subject is especially interesting to me and I loved Nancy Dixon’s book on the organizational learning cycle. It contained so many concepts

that I was excited to read about and that I was able to relate to the way things are and are not at my own organization. Some of my favorites included, hallways of learning, the four steps in the organizational learning cycle, and situating learning in real work. I also really like her ideas around developing managers. I wish all the managers in my company would read this book.

            Schein’s book on organizational culture and leadership will continue to be an important resource for me in my career. Understanding (or at least trying to understand) what makes up the culture at my organization will help me as I do my part to move the company towards becoming a learning organization. I have much to learn and experience, but I am very grateful for what I have learned in this class because it has been a great springboard from which to jump into ‘the pool of organizational culture and leadership’.

            A great part of what made this such a good class was learning about the great real life experiences shared by all my fellow learners. It was very meaningful for all of us that Carol shared her difficult experience with her company. We were able to get her synthesis of what we were learning in class and the events taking place in her organization, which was invaluable learning for us. We also learned from Kenton’s experience with the blog, as well as his own struggles to help his organization focus on its culture. We all enjoyed Tim’s wonderful flute playing and his informative description of the construction of the instrument. Everyone in class brought their ‘real world’ into the classroom and helped us construct our learning, which was an invaluable part of this class.

            I want to thank everyone in the class for sharing yourselves! 

ADLT 623 – Williamsburg Bread


The recipe for Williamsburg Bread is here –

4 cans crescent rolls

2 8oz. pkg. cream cheese (let soften)

1 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg white

Layer 2 cans of crescent rolls in greased 9X13 pan

Combine cream cheese, sugar, & vanilla and mix well

Spread filling on top of rolls

Layer remaining 2 cans of rolls on top of filling

Brush with egg white

Mix 1/4 cup sugar with 1 tsp. cinnamon and sprinkle on top

Bake at 350 for 30 min.

Happy Baking!