In my last blog I talked about how Action Learning is my number one tool when dealing with change. In this blog let’s explore further how key rules in Action Learning can help teams focus on the right actions and not the wrong ones.

Number One Rule: always focus on what you can influence NOT what you can’t

When dealing with problems or anxieties – there are two zones to consider. The Zone of Influence and the Zone of No influence.

The Zone of No Influence

Frustrations occur when you focus on the elements of your job or role that you can do nothing about. For example, a new database process has been introduced by central government which is outside your organisation’s control.

Some of the team don’t like this new process. They prefer the old process. Yet they know they can’t change it. Instead they start operating outside their sphere of influence.

What do they do?

  • They might moan about it to anybody that will listen.
  • They might withdraw and simmer quietly.
  • They might take the issue up with their manager, who listens empathetically or not – and yet they are still stuck with that new process.
  • Or they might try to, overtly or covertly, sabotage the new approach to “prove” that it doesn’t work and that the old way is better.
  • Or a combination of all of the above!


We all know the impact the above has on a team and individual – it benefits no one – so as managers and leaders you have to have something which will support your team to manage the new process, before it is sabotaged by negativity.

Action Learning teaches us to use our energies wisely by focusing on what we can positively influence.

HELPING people through Change using the Spheres of Influence

First, ask the question,

“Can you influence or change this new process or way of working? Can you go back to your old way of working?”

Eventually, they will all admit that, “No. It’s here to stay. We can’t go back.”

Once there is that acceptance, we can move on. So, next, ask them,

“What is it you can influence then?”

The answer to this often takes longer to arrive at but it is often the same: the main thing they can influence are their thoughts and emotions about the change.

They might feel angry, resentful or upset.

The next question is “Do you want to carry on feeling this way? What may be an alternative?”

Most people in an action learning set realise that the only people they are hurting are themselves.

It is also followed by a realisation that their upset is having a profound, negative, effect on two other groups:

  • Colleagues who are having to listen to their repetitive complaints about something that can’t be changed
  • Clients, partners and service users who implicitly pick up, “This new way is no good”. These resentment vibes are then translated by the service user into “This service and this organisation is no good!”


What happens next? Moving into The Zone of Influence

Ultimately, people have a choice. The role of the action learning set is to help individuals arrive at that place of choice safely and securely.

People who are struggling with change often realise that they have THREE options:

  1. Stay in their job and carry on as they are, feeling angry and resentful about the new way of working.
  2. Think differently about the new system and change their emotions about it.
  3. Or, if the new system no longer gives them a purpose or satisfaction, leave the job.


These are difficult and challenging options but they are still options.

As a leader of an organisation you can never force someone to like a change.  You can never WILL someone to like a change. Instead seek to understand the reasons for them not liking the change and:

  • Always opt for empathy rather than criticism
  • Give them a professional and safe forum, like an Action Learning set to move on and make choices which benefit all stakeholders


On a positive note….

When people who are resisting change get the opportunity to really focus on what they can change and dismiss what they can’t change, it can be an incredible relief for them. This makes Action Learning very empowering. And empowered people are your future leaders and motivators.

Watch me talk about how action learning can help dysfunctional teams