Collaborative Strategic Improvement through Network Action Learning
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Collaborative Strategic Improvement through Network Action Learning

The Path to Sustainability

Paul Coughlan and David Coghlan

Improvement is fundamental to the competitiveness of networks and requires the participating firms to collaborate in identifying and introducing changes. This book presents collaborative strategic improvement as a cycle of activities in which firms in a network can engage together. Drawing on actual cases, authors link this cycle with disciplined action learning as a means of building upon experience generated through collaborative action. They describe how a network can learn from experience and deploy that learning in the marketplace.
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Chapter 4: Action Learning in and Between Organizations

Paul Coughlan and David Coghlan


In Chapters 2 and 3 we explored how collaborative strategic improvement is a capacity or set of processes within and between organizations to improve performance sustainably based on experience. Organizations achieve this improvement through exploring and exploiting their learning by co-directing improvements in their operational capabilities and performance, co-developing these capabilities and by co-deploying them to realize market potential. We move now to presenting network action learning as a learning mechanism which, in combination with collaborative strategic improvement, enables the achievement of sustainable strategic improvement. In this chapter, we introduce the theory and practice of action learning. First, we introduce the ideas of Reg Revans, the founder of action learning, and the elements of his core theory. We then describe action learning in terms of a set of components. At the end of the chapter, we integrate the emerging themes as we apply the theory and the components of action learning to the inter-organizational setting and introduce two contrasting network settings in which action learning may be practised. The argument in the previous chapter was that organizations and networks need to create, develop and sustain learning mechanisms. One of the challenges facing organizations and networks is how to make learning sustainable so that the learning achieved is not short-lived. As defined previously, learning mechanisms, according to Shani and Docherty (2003: 16) are ‘formal and informal organizational configurations (structures and processes) whose purpose is to develop, improve and assimilate learning’. As cognitive, structural and procedural arrangements they initiate, facilitate and support...

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