Calling time – Bid time versa equal time in Sets

October 28, 2013

With an ever-increasing pressure on time and resources many Action Learning Sets (ALS) are now half-day sessions.  An on-going debate with fellow facilitators is therefore about how to divide time within a Set.

There are two main approaches. The first is allocating equal time, where , as the name implies, everyone has an equal amount of time to work on their chosen topic. The second is a “ bid for time” approach where time is allocated based on who has a pressing topic they want to work on in the session and how much time they want. If a number of people want time the set considers the requests and prioritises them. From this they then agree the amount of time and running order. In this approach there may only be two or three people who present.

Each of these approaches have inherent tensions along with some advantages and disadvantages. So here are a few things to consider when deciding how to allocate the time.

The advantages to equal time are:

  • Everyone knows they will have time at every session
  • It’s quick; you just need to agree the order people present in
  • Participants maintain momentum on a project knowing they will be expected to present it at the next session
  • It creates equality in the group

The disadvantages:

  • Time per person can be very limited, especially in half day Sets
  • Not enough time to work with more complex topics
  • Not everyone may have a pressing issue to work on and can feel obliged to bring something they aren’t truly engaged with

As for the bidding approach, the advantages include:

  • Set members take responsibility for the content and structure of the sessions thus have ownership of their process
  • This approach allows for greater depth and exploration of issues
  • Set members often bring similar topics and can gain as much in listening to and supporting another set member work on their particular situation
  • Set members know they have the right to have time and the choice not to use it
  • It doesn’t exclude everyone presenting

The disadvantages are:

  • The bidding round itself takes time
  • Only a few set members present at each session
  • Some set members may not get to present for a number of sessions (although the facilitator’s role is to keep a check on this)
  • Reluctant set members can hide by choosing not to present.

Other aspects to consider in allocating time are:

  • What type of programme or development is the Action Learning supporting? Which approach is therefore most appropriate?
  • How long are the sessions and what may work best?
  • Is there an expectation by the organisation or commissioner for a particular approach?
  • What is the culture in which the set is operating?
  • Who is making the decision – the Set or the facilitator? As facilitators we may have a preference we impose instead of giving the set the option to experience the various approaches and choose what works best for the set. How might you educate your Set and let them decide?





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