Skip menu

Exploring individual challenges of academic leadership in higher education

Thursday 4 July: Conference day two, 2:15pm – 3:45pm parallel mini-workshop



Room 5 – 301-G050 Lg Chem



Dr Heather Stewart
Griffith University, Australia

Dr Deborah Delaney
Griffith University, Australia

Lindsay Riley
Griffith University, Australia



In the spirit of the conference themes of academic leadership, work and identity, we propose an interactive, action learning based mini-workshop. The focus is to stimulate and explore individual’s academic leadership intent and identity in terms of professional development (PD) within the personal context of higher education. Building on continual learning theory through a normative re-educative lens (Argyris, 1990; Gapp & Fisher, 2008), we will guide the mini-workshop participants through a cyclical experience (Deming, 1994; Stewart & Gapp, 2018). To achieve this experiential approach, the method of Lego SeriousPlayÓ will be used to underpin an action learning (Dick, 2017) methodology. This collaborative style of working on individual and group levels is proven to extend ideas, views and often break down assumptions and barriers to perceived challenges in a safe and non-judgemental environment (Hadida, Tarvainen & Rose, 2015). As a result of the mini-workshop, new skills will be developed by participants in terms of resilience, creativity and lateral thinking to employ and establish ways and means to cope, overcome and potentially improve one’s leadership self-confidence within their work place.

This mini-workshop will be interactive and start with 15 minutes for an overview of the methodology (action research and action learning sets – i.e. Dick 1990, 2017; Revans 1982; Ackland, 1991) and include some ground rules to create a ‘safe place’ (what is said in the room stays in the room). Table 1 shows the three phases (20 minutes each) that will be synthesised through a concluding debrief of 15 minutes.

Table 1: Mini-workshop phases based on a synthesis of Theory in Action and an action learning process (Argyris & Schon, 1977; Argyris, 1990; Dick, 2017; Stewart & Gapp, 2018).

Theory in Action






Theory in Action


Espoused Theory

Phase 1

Form groups and individually use the Lego

Simple task e.g. think about your leadership and build a tower 

Debrief and report: What does this mean? Why did you use that colour?


Phase 2

Work as an individual using the Lego

How does your University/ school/department priotize your leadership (PD) and build your impression?

Debrief and report: What does this mean? How does this make you feel?



Phase 3

As a group use the Lego (no talking)

With leadership/PD in mind what does the perfect university look like in the future?

Debrief and report: What does this mean? How does this make you feel?



From the mini-workshop, the experiential learning of working as an individual and group is about developing new ideas, refocusing and taking fresh approaches to achieve leadership goals that support individual professional development. Through this experience the aim is to improve how we face the challenges of work place identity, focusing on leadership and personal professional development goals to achieve this.



Ackland, R., 1991. A Review of the Peer Coaching Literature. Journal of Staff Development12(1), pp.22-27.
Argyris, C., & Schon, D. A. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. Jossey-Bass.
Argyris, C. (1990). Integrating the Individual and the Organization. New York: Routledge,
Deming, W. (1994). The new economics for industry, government, education (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Engineering Study.
Dick, B. (1990). Rigour without numbers: The potential of dialetical processes as qualitative tools (2nd ed.). Chapel Hill, QLD: Interchange.
Dick, B. (2017). Action Learning: Using project teams to build leadership and resillience. Chapel Hill, Qld: Interchange.
Gapp, R., & Fisher, R. (2008). Achieving organisational transformation: An action learning approach. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 19(6), 609-625.
Hadida, A. L., Tarvainen, W., & Rose, J. (2015). Organizational improvisation: A consolidating review and framework. International Journal of Management Reviews17(4), 437-459.
Revans, R.W., 1982. What is action learning? Journal of Management Development1(3), pp.64-75.
Stewart, H., & Gapp, R. (2018). 14. The tree of knowledge: sustainable management practices for a collaborative. Research Handbook on Small Business Social Responsibility: Global Perspectives, 341-373.


Presentation topic

Mini-workshop 9

Print Friendly, PDF & Email