Accompanied Learning
  • When we started Organization Unbound, people often mistook us for a consulting firm, an understandable assumption given how common it is for organizations to rely on consultants to lead processes of internal change.

    However, we felt strongly (and still do) that the traditional consultancy model would be a barrier to cultivating a rich and expansive field of learning around expressive change.

    We wanted to learn with organizations, not just provide support to them. We wanted to dwell in a space of inquiry and experimentation. And we wanted to anchor our learning in accompaniment and friendship rather than ‘expertise’ and  ‘professionalism’.

    As people have reached out to us over the years, we’ve responded with these intentions. And from this, an alternative approach to supporting organizational transformation has emerged. We’ve started to think of it as ‘Accompanied Learning’.

    Below is our attempt to distill its key characteristics into a more cohesive definition, one that is evolving as an ever-widening circle of people help to shape it, based on their own experiences. As this is a co-created definition, we invite you to share your thoughts through the comment tool in this google doc.


    Defining Accompanied Learning


    Guided by a spirit of co-learning. A person or group within an organization comes together with a person or group external to that organization to learn together. Being in a relationship of mutual learning is the end goal. Because there are no recipes for transforming a living system, such as an organisation, we cannot plan it out or copy-paste best practices and expertise from other contexts. We can only collectively learn our way into the answers. Thus the primary role of the external partner is to be an exceptional co-learner (not to present their expertise, provide recommendations, propose solutions, guide a change process, or facilitate an intervention). They walk with organizational members as they experiment, probing for new insight and sharing knowledge and experience in response to what is emerging in practice. The Latin root of ‘accompaniment’ means to ‘eat bread together’, to satisfy a fundamental need. In the case of organizational accompaniment, this fundamental need is learning.


    Focused on the day-to-day. Accompanied learning involves gently experimenting with small shifts in behaviour in the context of the organization’s current work, rather than merely in separate retreats or through new structures or processes. It recognises that meaningful and sustained change unfolds in the micro-moments of organizational life. Instead of creating more work on top of people’s already packed agendas, the expectation is to work with what is already happening in the organization. This more integrated approach allows changes in ways of being to evolve more naturally and to be initiated in a more distributed way across the organization. It also reduces the level of anxiety and defensiveness often associated with organizational change.


    Contributes to a broader field of learning. Accompanied learning is intended to feed development at all levels of the organization, no matter where the inquiry begins (with an individual, team, department, etc.). It is also intended to contribute to the larger field of ‘organizational development for social change’ (via learning communities like Organization Unbound and The Barefoot Guide Connection). This coupling of an internally focused inquiry with a ‘greater good’ inquiry gives the learning relationship a deeper meaning. And this deeper meaning has a generative quality. The idea that through our learning we might be discovering insight that will help other teams/organizations is energizing and mind-expanding.


    Organizationally-driven. Experiments are led from within the organization (by anyone, no matter their formal position), rather than by the external learning partner. Because staff and volunteers experience their organization on a daily basis, they have a more nuanced and intuitive understanding of its inner-workings. They are able to more clearly see leverage points for change and tinker with them in the context of their daily work. The external partner can share helpful examples, frameworks, and practices, but it is ultimately up to the organization to decide if and how to apply them. The external partner does however serve as an important anchor and space holder for the learning relationship, ensuring that in the busyness of organizational life, it remains front and centre.


    Whole-person centred. Accompanied learning involves engaging with each other as whole people, beyond our professional expertise and roles. Because much of how we learn is tacit rather than explicit, the collective intelligence of a co-learning experience is expanded when we relate to each other in richer, more subtle ways. Our joy, humour, sadness, discomfort, anger, love, and fear are not simply emotional states. They can be signals that something is shifting or needs shifting. They can be doorways to new insight. And they strongly influence our capacity to learn and experiment. Accompanied learning involves paying attention to the ebbs and flows of human experience and responding to them in generative ways. The intention is to grow, within the learning relationship itself, the kind of social field we want to see blossom in the organization and in broader society.


    Open-ended & emergent. There is no predetermined end-date, plan of action, deliverables, or methodology. The path is made by walking it together. The learning partners check in with each other periodically to see if the relationship is still relevant and, if so, how they would like to proceed. For some accompanied learning relationships, this check-in happens at the end of each encounter. For others, an intention is set to have a certain number of learning exchanges, followed by a check-in. The general aim is to be in a medium to long-term relationship so that there is sufficient breathing space to experiment, observe the results, and iterate based on those results. A longer term engagement also helps the parties get to know each other in more nuanced ways.


    Multi-formed. A variety of accompanied learning constellations are possible. An individual can accompany an individual, a group of people, or an entire organization. An organization can accompany another organization. Or a team can accompany another team. And the constellation might evolve over time. For example, an individual might start off accompanying one person and welcome in others over time, as interest across the organization grows.


    Contractually experimental. Accompanied learning does not always involve a monetary transaction. It can be driven purely by mutual learning, if both parties are comfortable with that. However, if there is an expressed need for one person to earn a living through the value they contribute, then payment options are explored that enable the relationship to develop with as much freedom and flexibility as possible. For example, the organization might hire the external partner hourly, on monthly retainer or agree to contribute a yet-to-be-determined amount at a later date, once the relationship has had time to demonstrate its learning value.


    Qualities for organizations to look for in a learning partner:

    Has a high degree of integrity. Someone you trust and are comfortable receiving honest (and sometimes challenging) feedback from.

    Exceptionally curious about and aligned with the learning focus. Related experience, skills and knowledge can vary.

    A deep listener, who listens to the head, heart and feet.

    – Skilled at the art of inquiry and dialogue.

    Doesn’t carry the same preferences and blind spots you carry.   

    – Focused on growing what is working rather than fixing what is not.

    – Interested in cultivating a learning relationship, rather than just offering their expertise.

    Authentic, bringing their whole-self to the relationship, not just their professional self.

    – Desires to be both a giver and receiver of support/learning.

    – Facilitates learning between the micro level (individuals/teams/organizations) and the macro level (field/sector/society).


    Qualities for external learning partners to look for in organizations:

    Keen to regularly experiment in the day-to-day of organizational life. Understand this isn’t just an intellectual exercise happening ‘in theory’.

    Driven by a sense of possibility and deep curiosity. Without this drive it’s unlikely motivation for accompanied learning can be sustained.

    Courageously open. It takes a lot to fully welcome an ‘outsider’ into your organization in such an intimate way. 

    Have a soft underbelly. Lots of organisations have thick skins, but it is only through being vulnerable that real accompanied learning is made possible.

    Value human beings over roles and positions, or have a sense they should (maybe they just don’t know how).



    October 1st, 2018 | Organization Unbound | 2 Comments

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kurumsal reklam