The People Experience – Action Learning at the Catapult

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Kathryn Jeacock was the previous Head of HR here at the Satellite Applications Catapult. In September 2019 she, along with the Action learning team at the Catapult, won the World Institute for Action Learning (WIAL) award for Best Application of Action Learning 2019. Read below, in Kathryn’s own words, the journey to achieve breakthrough results, embed a coaching mindset, and change organisational culture through Action Learning.

When I first started at the Satellite Applications Catapult nearly two years ago, the first thing I did was speak to as many of the people that make up the business as possible, to understand what worked and what could be even better. One of the key themes that was consistently being raised was learning and development. This presented a couple of challenges:

  1. I didn’t have a big training budget and
  2. the wide-ranging skills and talent of our people

I needed to get creative about how I could make development even better for the maximum number of people. Don’t get me wrong, I know that we have a long way still to go with development at the Catapult

My solution was to develop a leadership programme that focussed on understanding people, feedback, and coaching skills. My idea being that if people managers used these skills with the individuals in their teams it would stimulate and create better development discussions..

I knew that this would be a significant investment for the Catapult so the most important thing for me was ‘learning transfer’. I wanted to ensure that any programme I put together would stay with people and become their way of working. I really didn’t want people attending workshops and then never implementing any of the skills and techniques taught.

Working with our external trainers Vicky and Liz they helped me to create ‘The People Experience’. I wanted this to be a developmental journey that was an experience that stayed with people. When I talked to Liz and Vicky about the need for real learning transfer, Liz talked to me about Action Learning. Having been in HR for the best part of 15 years, Action Learning is a staple initiative within learning and development and I have witnessed its implementation with varying degrees of success. Typically when you speak to people about action learning the normal response is an eye roll and a ‘do I have to do that bit’. I shared my views with Liz but she encouraged me to go with it, that there were lots of different types of Action Learning and that the WIAL action learning was really powerful. So trust the process I did…. and how glad am I that I did!

After observing the first cohort (nicknamed the Coachellas) in their first action learning experience, I was blown away by the process, and the feedback from the Coachellas was a resounding thumbs up. The group talked to me about how beneficial and innovative this would be for the wider Catapult and some of the challenges we face.

In January I had the opportunity to attend a week intensive World Institute for Action Learning (WIAL) Action Learning Coaching Qualification. This gave me the skills to be able to be an Action Learning Coach and facilitate Action Learning sessions.

Since becoming qualified I have used Action Learning to work on some of our most complex challenges including:

  • Technical challenges on projects
  • Strategy challenges with EMT
  • Business challenges as part of personal development
  • People Manager problems as part of ongoing leadership development after the People Experience

This innovative and powerful approach to problem solving has been hugely beneficial for the Catapult which facilitates diversity of thought, respect and development of key leadership skills. The structured approach to the problem solving creates a safe and respectful space where everyone is heard and there is time to explore the problem leaving ego/opinion at the door. It allows true exploration of the problem so that solutions solve the actual problem, stopping the urge to solve what you think might be the problem.

I was completely gobsmacked when I found out that we had won the Best Application of Action Learning 2019. Out of 600 coaches worldwide we have won this accolade. This week I am attending the WIAL conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and bringing home our award!

The WIAL method of Action Learning is really forward thinking and I love that at the Catapult we are encouraged to be innovative not only within our technical teams but our other teams too. I really do strive to innovative within the people space and I am really excited about how we can use Action Learning more at the Catapult and within the wider Space Sector.

Thank you to everyone who has been involved in action learning, trusting the process and spreading the word that this is a really epic thing to do!