Another group problem solving approach is through what is known as business mastermind model which at times is referred to as action learning, although I like to distinguish between the two processes as there are differences. Here typically groups of business people are brought together to work on issues which are then solved through a process of questioning and sharing ideas.
I have seen the business mastermind model work very well for owners of small businesses who benefit greatly from the experience of outside expertise to help develop themselves and the business. I have seen these groups referred to as "the board you can’t afford" as they draw upon the expertise of set members who can offer a different perspective to help the ‘issue holder’ solve their problem.
It contrasts with pure action learning in that the issue holder relies less on set members asking questions to draw out the issue holder’s own solutions and more on using the experience, ideas, thoughts and suggestions of those in the group.
This can be an immensely powerful process in which set members from totally different backgrounds and experience to the issue holder can offer a totally fresh perspective to the challenge, and they can even contribute if they have no experience. In just 30 minutes having had their challenge or question listened to and clarified they can go away with a long list of ideas for moving forward. Knowing they are accountable to the group and progress will be reviewed there is an incentive to take action.
As with action learning there is an emphasis on critical reflection and any ‘input’ from the group members should be given more as reflection and thoughts rather than concrete advice. Action learning principles can be applied and the role of the facilitator is one of ensuring that the process is followed, set members develop and learning is derived.
Use this business mastermind model to help individuals work on challenges in a group setting. It is important that you have a nominated facilitator who will ensure that the process is followed, set members develop and learning is gained for all participants. I have worked with this particular business mastermind model many times and I find it an immensely powerful process in providing a very focused session generating a wealth of ideas in a short time.
The issue holder briefly outlines their challenge to the other set members so that they have an understanding of the challenge to be resolved and what help the issue holder would like from the group.
Set members ask questions to more fully understand what the challenge is, what skills and resources they currently have and what progress the issue holder has already made in tackling the issue.
Set members in turn provide positive affirmation based on what they have already learned and observed in this session about the issue holder’s capabilities, resources, skills and character. Although this may feel uncomfortable at first this is a really positive and powerful way of raising the confidence of the issue-holder in tackling their challenge, and I find that they really appreciate the positive feedback. It should however be genuine and based on what the set members have observed in this session.
At this stage the presenter sits outside the set, taking pen and paper with them and sitting within earshot of the group, but remaining silent. The set members in turn offer their thoughts and reflections about the challenge, share their own experiences and pose questions which the issue holder may want to reflect on. This is not an advice giving stage where the emphasis is ‘he should do this…or she should consider that’ instead reflections are offered as ‘gifts’ which they are not ‘attached to’ which the presenter can then choose to use as they wish. This stage should not turn into debate between set members as each ‘gift’ is of equal value and is not there to be judged by other members.
The presenter returns to the set summarising briefly what in particular they have picked up on and what they will take away. The presenter should not dismiss any ideas at this stage leaving any ideas that don’t currently resonate, to one side.
In the final part of the business mastermind model the group reviews the process they have been through (not the content of the issue holder’s subject) to reflect on how the set worked – what worked well and what was learned from the process, and any changes to the process are agreed for next time.
Finally at the beginning of the next session any action arising from each of the issue holders’ sessions should be reviewed. This helps to reinforce the principle that the issue holders are accountable to the group for achieving the actions that the group has helped them to identify.
The Action Learning Handbook: Powerful Techniques for Education, Professional Development and Training by Anne Brockbank and Ian McGill (Paperback - 6 Nov 2003)
Action Learning: A Practical Guide for Managers by Krystyna Weinstein (Paperback - 16 Nov 1998)
Action Learning And Group Coaching
What Is Action Learning
Action Learning Model
Action Learning Principles
Action Learning Ground Rules
Action Learning Set Roles
Role Of The Facilitator
Action Learning Skills
The Ideal Number Of Members In An Action Learning Set
Lifetime Of An Action Learning Set