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Action Learning and Coaching in Corporate Settings


The paper provides an explanation for the term ‘action learning’ in the context of its connection with the idea of coaching in the corporate setting. Such core principles of action learning as the teamwork, taking actions to address the problem, and the learning as a result of reflections and evaluation are actively utilized for developing modern coaching practices. In addition, in their work, executive coaches use achievements in the further development of the action learning approach. Therefore, it is possible to state that action learning influenced the concept of coaching in organizations significantly, adding to the diversity training, leadership training, and communication development.

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Action learning is known as a strategy and theory to train individuals with a focus on solving real-life problems and reflecting on the results. The reflection allows effective learning, and the use of this approach in education and professional development guarantees lifelong growth (Yeadon-Lee, 2013, p. 984). As a result, action learning is actively used in management training, and it is often viewed as an approach that influenced the development of the executive coaching concept and practice. In spite of the fact that action learning is usually discussed as an independent approach used by managers for completing certain goals and tasks, this strategy is directly connected with the concept of coaching in the corporate setting because it provides the specific approach to training, working in groups, and developing individual skills.

Core Ideas for Action Learning

Action learning as an approach, strategy, and practice is based on such key principles as the focus on the solution of real organizational problems and tasks, the work in teams, and the learning during the process of solving the issue. Therefore, the core ideas of this process are the building of a working team, taking the real action, and the reflection on results (Brook, Pedler, & Burgoyne, 2013, p. 734). These three ideas determine the activities performed by employees during their active learning. When it is necessary to solve the concrete real issue in the corporate setting, managers organize a team that will participate in the process.

The task of the team’s work is to formulate the concrete actions to take in order to address the issue. As a result, the effective outcomes of the work depend on the collaboration between team members. When actions are implemented, team members evaluate and reflect on the received outcomes and the overall results of this process as the learning (McNamara et al., 2014). From this point, the main principle of this approach is that individuals receive not only experiences during the process of solving the problem, but they also develop their skills and learn how to address the issue efficiently, and the overall learning process can be continuous.

Impacts of Action Learning on the Development of Coaching

Having many advantages for developing the individuals’ professional potential, action learning influenced coaching as a practice significantly. The main feature connecting these practices is that the processes of action learning and coaching are regulated by one person, a coach. In action learning, the role of a coach is usually performed by a member of a team or a manager, who should monitor the individuals’ successes while assisting employees in developing their skills. In this case, the coach’s actions can be rather directive (Stober & Grant, 2006). In executive coaching, a similar role is performed by a manager who organizes and conducts training sessions to develop employees’ skills and awareness in relation to diversity, team building, leadership, and communication (Stober & Grant, 2006). In their turn, the action-learning coaches work to reveal the individuals’ potential and strengths, develop capacities, and provide opportunities for learning and progress (Yeadon-Lee, 2013, p. 984). Today, these roles are performed by executive coaches who also use the work in teams and reflection to train employees more effectively.

From this perspective, coaching in action learning influenced the development of the executive coaching concept. According to McNamara et al. (2014), “coaching is both action-oriented and learning-oriented, focusing on the individual’s personal and professional goals and intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, such as self-management and interpersonal communication” (p. 2535). These characteristics of coaching are results of using principles of action learning when individuals resolve different types of problems, explore new approaches that are based on the practice and experience, and reflect on the process to learn more about outcomes and themselves.

Current Use of Action Learning Principles by Executive Coaches

The action learning approach develops, and new trends in using it in organizations also influence the modern strategies in the work of executive coaches who choose the most efficient tools to assist and train employees. The reason is that new types of action learning appeared, and today managers refer to the “business-driven action learning”, “self-managed action learning”, and “critical action learning” (Brook et al., 2013, p. 731). As a consequence, the overall approach to coaching, not only to the action-learning coaching, can change; and coaches or trainers in organizations can adapt more tools and strategies to their practice. From this point, action learning can be discussed as providing ideas and tools for developing executive training on a regular base.

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Nowadays, coaches incorporate setting pay more attention to the critical evaluation of outcomes and training results, to self-management practices, to employees’ self-questioning, and to the changes in the employees’ behavior (Brook et al., 2013). These changes occur within the corporate setting as a result of focusing on the new achievements in the context of action learning (Yeadon-Lee, 2013). For instance, in diversity training, coaches are inclined to create teams, encourage the collaboration of diverse employees, and focus more on individuals’ reflection related to the learning and training experience. This practice has roots in the modified action learning approach.


The phenomenon of coaching can be viewed as directly connected with the strategy of action learning. Although action learning is usually used in the management practice as an independent strategy to develop the employees’ capacities and problem-solving skills, the main aspects of modern executive coaching are directly related to action learning. The connection is most noticeable while discussing the current strategies that are used in coaching for the capacity building during the real-life problem-solving process. In addition, the impact of action learning on coaching is observed while discussing the modern coaches’ strategies that are used to guarantee the continual development of employees and improvement of their performance with references to deepening their experience. Moreover, the factor of the developed teamwork and collaboration can also be discussed as rather influential. These factors affected the approaches that are used today in leadership and diversity training in corporations, and they provided the grounds for the further progress of the coaching practice.


Brook, C., Pedler, M., & Burgoyne, J. (2013). A protean practice? Perspectives on the practice of action learning. European Journal of Training and Development, 37(8), 728-743.

McNamara, M. S., Fealy, G. M., Casey, M., O’Connor, T., Patton, D., Doyle, L., & Quinlan, C. (2014). Mentoring, coaching and action learning: Interventions in a national clinical leadership development programme. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 23(18), 2533-2541.

Stober, D. R., & Grant, A. M. (2006). Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Yeadon-Lee, A. (2013). Action learning: Understanding interpersonal relationships within learning sets. The Journal of Management Development, 32(9), 984-994.

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