Aims Drawing on findings from the evaluation of a Health Action Zone (HAZ), this paper explores the manager's role in promoting and nurturing learning. Background Initiating practice development is a core function of the manager's role. Learning must be nurtured to reach beyond individual to organizational learning and address knowledge exchange as well as creation. In the United Kingdom, HAZs were established to reduce health inequalities. They embraced a variety of service delivery approaches, all with an emphasis on developing new ways of working and innovation. Methods Qualitative interviews of the HAZ coordinators, performance manager and staff delivering services. Results Two alternative ways of engagement and entrenchment to practice were identified to developing new ways of working and learning from experience. Conclusions Development of sustainable and enduring structures which facilitate learning at both individual and organizational levels are key to utilization of knowledge and accumulation of learning. Implications for nursing management When entrenched and engaged experiential learning in practice are pursued, the role of the manager as a catalyst needs to be highlighted. A tool is proposed to facilitate reflection and promote action plan development. This tool has potential general application, but our experience is that it makes a specific contribution to public health and primary care.