Awkwardness to elegance
Choosing presenters in action learning
Wright, N. (2023), 'Awkwardness to Elegance - Choosing Presenters in Action Learning', Action Learning Associates, 27 July.
I'd like to discuss the challenge of choosing who will have the opportunity to present at an Action Learning set meeting. As facilitators, we've likely experienced the complexities that arise when trying to navigate this process. It can indeed feel like a clumsy dance where participants struggle to find their feet. Let's start by acknowledging that in a set with limited time and multiple participants, there is a mathematical limit to how many people can present during a meeting. This limitation can lead to dilemmas and emotions surfacing as we try to decide whom to offer the presenting space to.
One common approach to handle this dilemma is to begin with a bidding round. During this round, each participant summarizes the crux of a complex issue they would find valuable to think through. They may also indicate their level of energy and enthusiasm to present it at that meeting using a scale, such as 1 to 5. However, this approach can sometimes trigger competitive feelings or fears of exclusion. Some might worry about how their bid compares to others, or whether they will be chosen at all. This can trigger memories of, say, college beauty pageants or being left out of teams at school.
One alternative to the bidding process is to change the language to open with a sharing round instead. Some sets say that this wording works better for them culturally because it sounds and feels more collaborative. Participants can openly share their topics and interests without the pressure of immediate selection. Another option is to allocate available presentation slots in advance, thus removing the pressure and angst of choosing during the meeting. This way, everyone knows in advance when they will have the opportunity to present, creating a sense of fairness and predictability.
To make the choosing process smoother and more nuanced, however, I've often found that offering the group a range of sample criteria can be helpful. These could include, for instance: level of energy, urgency or immanence, shared interest in the group, equity of opportunity, and novelty of the topic. By using these kinds of criteria, the set can engage in a richer discussion, make more informed decisions and avoid a risk of defaulting to the loudest presenter or ‘sexiest’ topic. By exploring different approaches and discussing openly, we can find a method that suits the dynamics of each unique set.