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Powerful Learning Experiences
in Management Learning and Development

The experiences of managers attending residential development training courses.

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Each of the four summaries below provides a different perspective on my interviews with 12 managers. The context is explained in the abstract. The findings presented here do not (yet) include the findings from the questionnaire surveys with 100 managers, nor the findings from research workshops and interviews with the trainers providing these courses.

Powerful Learning Experiences: extracts on this site

  1. ABSTRACT
  2. MAIN FINDINGS (from the 12 interviews)
  3. 4 GROUPS OF STORIES (from the 12 interviews)
  4. 12 THEMES (found in the 12 interviews)
  5. 12 STORIES (3 line summaries of each interview)
  6. A MANAGER'S STORY (extract from one interview)
  7. INTERVIEW INDEX   INTERVIEWS
  8. LEARNING CYCLES
  9. REFERENCES
  10. DOWNLOAD

MAIN FINDINGS FROM 12 INTERVIEWS

  1. VARIETY OF VALUED EXPERIENCES
    Within a single group, there can be a wide variety of valued experiences, with each person telling a very different story about what most affected their learning and development (rather than all having similar experiences and learning similar things from the same event).

  2. VARIETY OF PATTERNS AND SEQUENCES OF LEARNING
    Although there are ingredients which are common to most of the experiences described to me (e.g. space, opportunity, challenge, favourable learning climate), there were many different patterns and sequences of learning taking place. It seems unlikely that a single learning model could contain this variety. Learning models may provide a useful guide for setting up a favourable learning climate, but once the real adventures start, many more ways of learning (i.e. learning models) become possible.

  3. RE-LEARNING IS HIGHLY VALUED
    Much of what is valued is presented by managers as relearning rather than new learning (e.g. reaffirming, getting back to basics, getting in touch and in tune, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, re-adjusting balances).

  4. SUPPORT IS HIGHLY VALUED
    Being in a supportive group is frequently valued highly by managers, sometimes enthusing about the interpersonal experience itself (e.g. trust, teamwork, synergy), sometimes more because support served as a means to end such as by enabling them to break through personal barriers.

  5. SOME EXPERIENCES REQUIRE MINIMAL PROCESSING
    Most of the experiences reported by managers to have affected their learning and development were experiences which were full of meaning at the time they were happening rather than being experiences which required a lot of processing to make them meaningful. Some managers were committed to further processing to work out the full implications of a particular experience.

  6. SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES CAN BE DIFFICULT TO DESCRIBE
    Many experiences which managers reported as most affecting their learning and development were often the ones they found most difficult to describe. Sometimes the difficulty was that there was 'so much' to their experience: 'lots of things' interconnecting rather than being one isolated piece of learning that stood on its own. Sometimes the difficulty was that the learning was most satisfyingly captured in a symbolic way through visual images or metaphors (rather than as a totally verbal concept that can be concisely expressed in the form of an 'action plan' or 'action point').

  7. MANAGERS REVIEW THEIR EXPERIENCES IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS
    Reviewing can help to create a favourable learning climate, and to establish reflective learning as an integral part of the course process. Once the reviewing habit is established and managers have high expectations of relevance, they will tend to notice more learning opportunities and facilitate their own learning, whether individually, in small informal groups or in group sessions. Reviewing can also be an important safety net (or damage limitation exercise) by helping people to recover and learn from negative experiences. Some managers continued to prefer reviewing on their own.

  8. THE HOLISTIC PERSPECTIVE OF MANAGERS
    These managers seemed to be particularly interested in whole person development, integrative learning, balances and values - they seemed to want to get the more profound things right, and were less concerned about specific skills or detailed learning. It was not clear to what extent these attitudes were characteristic of these managers, or whether this was the stance they took towards this particular course.
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FOUR GROUPS OF STORIES (OR ACCOUNTS)

When looking further into the similarities and differences between the 12 accounts of managers' experiences, I discovered four possible groupings of accounts. What was particularly interesting about this analysis was that having created the groupings based on just one point of similarity between stories in a group, I found that each story within a group had more in common with other stories in the group than was at first apparent.

Group 1

  • These people: were aroused by the different world they found, and they wanted their world of work to be more like this one.
  • They were most affected by: the course as a whole.
  • Their stories were mainly about: 'worlds of difference'.
  • They were learning mostly by: picturing what their world could be like.

Group 2

  • These people: recovered from their 'low points', ending up with a 'net gain' in confidence, partly by transforming their 'lows' into useful learning.
  • They were most affected by: separate experiences.
  • Their stories were mainly about: recovering and learning from low points.
  • They were learning mostly by: private reflection and making resolutions.

Group 3

  • These people: were concerned with getting personal or group energy flowing and with making adjustments so that energy is used productively.
  • They were most affected by: similarities between experiences.
  • Their stories were mainly about: energy levels.
  • They were learning mostly by: 'tuning' energy flow to improve performance.

Group 4

  • These people: made breakthroughs of some kind, as if they have changed gear or changed levels rather than simply made adjustments.
  • They were most affected by: one experience which stood out.
  • Their stories were mainly about: 'changing up a gear'.
  • They were learning mostly by: letting go and performing well.

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12 COMMON THEMES IN MANAGERS' STORIES

This list summarises what appear to be the main themes of managers' stories.
  1. 'RE-' Experiencing something again, and feeling much better for it - refreshed, rekindled, reaffirmed etc.
  2. SYNERGY AND SUPPORT The delight of being part of a successful team, and experiencing the sum being greater than the parts. Appreciating the value of giving or receiving support.
  3. FREEDOM TO LEARN Experiencing a free-flowing learning climate in which there are few blocks or barriers and in which creativity and risk-taking is supported.
  4. PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT The satisfaction of personal success (typically overcoming a personal fear, or leading/managing the group).
  5. BROADENING HORIZONS Meeting new people, doing new activities, experiencing a new learning culture.
  6. MAKING CONNECTIONS Lots of things interrelated, recognising patterns, seeing connections. Insight, 'oh!', 'aha!' New learning which arrives as a sudden dawning.
  7. LEARNING FROM LOWS Recovering from a 'bad' experiences by creating a consolation prize - such as working out how to avoid such experiences again, or vowing not to subject others to a similar experience.
  8. LEARNING FROM FEEDBACK Learning from feedback from others in the group (whether it is seen as positive or negative).
  9. ENERGY Learning how to generate it, release it, use it and control it. The focus can be on personal or team performance.
  10. POWERFUL EXPERIENCE Feeling empowered. Having an intense experience which is sufficiently vivid or stirring to have a direct and lasting effect. The effect may change over time, especially through further reviewing.
  11. SENSING VALUE Sensing that an experience has been valuable, but not being sure what to make of it. Committed to making sense of the experience and working out the implications once the course is over.
  12. LEARNING TO LEARN Interpreting experiences on different levels; liking the experiential learning process itself, and working out how to improve one's own approach to learning.

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SUMMARIES OF MANAGERS' STORIES

In the questionnaires and in the interviews I was asking managers about the experiences which they felt had most affected their learning and development. These were the experiences described to me:
M1 ANOTHER WORLD
She enjoyed meeting managers from industry. She was very interested in this approach to experiential learning, both as an approach to management development and in its potential applications in primary school.
M2 A POWERFUL GROUP
His experience as the leader of a project made him want to develop a more consultative style. He was very pleased with the fact that the group took on responsibility for organising and facilitating learning for each other.
M3 EXPERIENCES OF HARDSHIP
Her main learning experiences seemed painful and lonely such as when she was feeling incapable as cox of the team boat. She was gaining insights into what it can be like to be a poorly managed team member.
M4 STEPPING BACK, TAKING A LOOK, SLOWING DOWN
He was learning to use his adrenaline in a controlled manner. The tension between 'free-flowing' action and pausing to reflect is never fully resolved, and leaves some contradictions within his story.
M5 QUIET FACILITATION OF THE TEAM
He enjoyed quietly supporting others, and sorting out or pre-empting conflicts. Like others in the group, he was dedicated to achieving team tasks. It made him hopeful, but unsure about how to tackle issues at work.
M6 GETTING IN TOUCH AND IN TUNE
He became 'passionately involved' in individual activities, prompting him to seek ways of getting more personally involved in projects at work, and of getting a better balance between work, family and his individual interests.
M7 UNFAMILIAR, UNCOMFORTABLE EXPERIENCES
She describes three different kinds of experience. Each of them were initially unfamiliar and uncomfortable experiences, but she managed to derive some satisfaction and learning from each of them.
M8 BEING CREATIVE TOGETHER
He enjoyed the space and opportunity, without pressure, to indulge in group creative activity. This reminded him of the importance of getting 'back to basics' and getting basic working relationships right.
M9 TAKING THE FIRST STEP
His personal achievement of a ropes course challenge, he found to be full of meaning and messages about coping with change at work. Once one metaphorical link was made, others readily fell into place.
M10 GRAPHIC EXPERIENCES IN A SAFE ENVIRONMENT
Personal achievements confirmed his belief that 'limitations are in the mind'. In group tasks, he was interfering with the responsibilities of others, partly because he was wanting to achieve to a higher standard.
M11 A DRAMATIC EXPERIENCE WITH VIVID IMAGES
She was learning about ways of using support in risky situations. She was particularly interested in learning processes, and in different levels of learning. She found that she was becoming more experimental.
M12 LETTING GO AND TRUSTING OTHERS
As leader of a major project, he made full use of this opportunity to experiment with a more flexible style of leadership. Experiences of group synergy and achievement left him refreshed as if he had been in a sauna.

top of page  |  INTERVIEW INDEX  |  INTERVIEWS

Powerful Learning Experiences: extracts on this site

  1. ABSTRACT
  2. MAIN FINDINGS (from the 12 interviews)
  3. 4 GROUPS OF STORIES (from the 12 interviews)
  4. 12 THEMES (found in the 12 interviews)
  5. 12 STORIES (3 line summaries of each interview)
  6. A MANAGER'S STORY (extract from one interview)
  7. INTERVIEW INDEX   INTERVIEWS
  8. LEARNING CYCLES
  9. REFERENCES
  10. DOWNLOAD
top of page  |  RESEARCH INDEX

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