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Action Learning

New York Public Library, New York

Innovation Summary

The learning mission at the library is to continually elevate the skills of our colleagues through education, exposure and experience. In pursuit of this mission, the team has introduced "Action Learning" as a management tool to build problem-solving, communication and leadership skills.

Problem Statement

Library managers lack confrontation skills and avenues to communicate cross-functionally. "Action Learning" employs the Socratic method - complementing their existing reference interview skills - to confront assumptions, enhance personal effectiveness and build assertiveness. This tool allows for a level playing field with all participants, irrespective of title, challenged to focus on problems within their influence and control; and to use the power of questions to reach a breakthrough strategy.


"Action Learning" uses the power of questions to reach breakthrough strategies. Questions keep managers focused, developing leadership and problem-solving skills. The library utilizes this tool to address urgent challenges, provide an avenue to confront assumptions and build individual and team skills. Externally, the L&D team host "Action Learning" knowledge sharing expos. L&D Partner, Mies de Koning, gave a TedX talk that encouraged the use of questions to transform organizational strategy within an institution.


This tool interrogates problems, builds desired behavior changes and a management culture of empowerment. For example, over four sessions, the problem presented evolved from the challenge of addressing interdepartmental collaboration to there is no process in place to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of policies and regulations. The tool revealed the real problem and a quality management group was installed that now updates policies as the organization changes. There were 65 sessions (390 participants) in FY16/17.