Does Action Learning Lead to Organizational Growth?

9 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2000

See all articles by Ivo De Loo

Ivo De Loo

Nyenrode Business University

Bernard Verstegen

Unaffiliated Authors

Date Written: June 14, 2000


Organizations are often faced with difficult, complex problems in a similarly difficult and complex environment. In order to tackle these problems, several methods have been proposed in the literature. One of them is action learning.

Action learning starts from the premise that gained insights are more important for solving problems for which no clear-cut solution exists than pure knowledge, and that managers should therefore be confronted, if possible, with problems from outside of their everyday realm. If this is accomplished, an action learning program should lead to organizational growth. What we see in practice however is that when action learning programs are evaluated, they seem to have led to personal growth but have rarely resulted in organizational growth.

We illustrate that this may be due to the fact that the final decision in solving the problem an action learning program focuses on often is not in the hands of the action learning participants themselves. We then challenge the idea that managers should be confronted with problems that are not a part of their regular work, since no matter what setting one is placed in, one will always take a certain perspective, thereby affecting the way in which problems are solved in one way or another.

Furthermore we argue, using a framework adapted from agency theory, that organizations should give attention to hold-up situations that may arise when organizational growth can only be attained through the personal growth of managers they experience as a result of action learning programs. In a responsibility accounting framework, the possibility of hold-up situations should be taken into account in order to strengthen management control.

Both arguments can explain why action learning may lead to personal growth but not to organizational growth.

Keywords: action learning, organizational growth, agency theory

JEL Classification: M40, J20

Suggested Citation

De Loo, Ivo and Verstegen, Bernard, Does Action Learning Lead to Organizational Growth? (June 14, 2000). Available at SSRN: or

Ivo De Loo (Contact Author)

Nyenrode Business University ( email )

Straatweg 25
P.O. Box 130
Breukelen, 3620 AC

Bernard Verstegen

Unaffiliated Authors

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