top of page

Know How: Action Workout

Action Workout is a team based approach for solving problems, exploring new opportunities or developing team cohesion.

It's origins began in the late 80's when Jack Welch used it as an approach to empowering staff in GE; driving a significant cultural change after several large company reorganisations.

"Work-Out is designed to create an environment where every man and woman in the Company can see and feel a connection between what he or she does all day…and winning in the marketplace." - John F. Welch, Jr. Annual Meeting of Share Owners, 1989

Action Workout can be applied as tool in your problem-solving arsenal or as a component of driving cultural change. The latter requiring clear executive support - as in the GE example - to ensure the change to thinking is applied.

The approach also scales up, working for very small groups or large meetings - called Town Halls - to achieve the required outcome of a clear set of actions and owners.

In essence, a trained facilitator (or several depending on group size) will take participants through three phases of activity:

  1. Problem Phase - what are the problems/issues/barriers?

  2. Solution Phase - what can be done to resolve the important issues?

  3. Action Phase - who and how are the solutions to be implemented?

Each Phase will, itself, go through three stages called Open-Narrow-Close where a trained facilitator will lead the team:

  1. Open - Ideas without boundaries, completely open discussion and debate.

  2. Narrow - Group the ideas/information into a priority order.

  3. Close - selecting only most important to take into next phase of activity.

Throughout, it will be clear that the team themselves will not only be responsible for identifying the solutions and actions, but they will also be responsible for ensuring they are also implemented. A governance framework is in place to give confidence the team are supported, but the team themselves are given the responsibility needed to see through any decisions they make.

Throughout the session, the facilitator remains neutral to the issues being discussed, aiding the team to navigate through the session using a number of different team-based tools and techniques to keep the workout both fast paced and focused.

Teams trained in action workout techniques apply them often in day-to-day problem solving, sometimes involving just a few people and lasting less than an hour.

Cross-functional action workout sessions last longer, anywhere between half to three days, with action plans generated than can be completed in 30-60 days.

Town Halls generally only last a day or two, but are structured to allow simultaneous facilitation of sessions across multiple teams, with a wrap-up activity that pulls together the separate streams for everyone.

If you've never been involved in an action workout then it's worth finding out more, they are fast, energising and have great impact on any team. It's not just about resolving the problem at hand, the approach also provides a fast track way of building engagement within new teams, or helping dysfunctional teams to work together better.

Case Study: A team of 28 experts in Crisis Management / Disaster Recovery attended a 1-day Action-Workout to address the problems of addressing the new challenges of delivering services to an organisation that had doubled in size through several acquisitions and quadrupled the number of sites! As a result of the day an interim agreement was established and an entirely new approach agreed that was documented and communicated over the following 90 days. Before the session, expectations were very low, anticipating "more talking" and "no action." after previous failed attempts to resolve the challenges. The structured approach gave everyone the focus needed to achieve a positive solution within 90 days.

Wzard Innovation can provide Action-Workout training and facilitation or discuss other techniques for driving cultural change.

bottom of page