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University of Exeter Business School

Leading Resilient Organisations

Module titleLeading Resilient Organisations
Module codeMBAM942B
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Caryn Vanstone (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks

5 days

Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Designing and leading organisations that can ‘bounce-forward’ from shock, and are eco-centric (rather than ego-centric) requires a deep shift of mind-set.  The objective of this module is to use ideas from antifragility, ‘permaculture’, biomimicry, and adaptive improvisation to stimulate this shift in mind-set, and develop skills and confidence to lead for change capacity and sustainability.  Participants will be immersing themselves in the agro-forestry example of permaculture at a venue such as Dartington Hall, Devon as well as using a professional e-learning platform, webinars and live-streamed classroom activities. Participants will learn how they might create more generative, accountable and ethical business and social practices, and enable more innovation and flourishing (with reduced cost and intervention) as a result. 

Internationalisation: The concept of adaptive, eco-centric mind-set is global and applicable in any context.

Employability: The module will enhance participant’s collaboration and learning skills, and align their assumptions about organisations with principles such as circular economy, social integrity, and ecological sustainability.

Sustainability: The module offers a different way to explore the nature of ecosystem sustainability (permaculture and complex systems dynamics), giving a fresh take on some core ideas in the MBA. 

Corporate Engagement: The lead tutor is an international consultant, applying these ideas in large corporates, including those working on ecological, economic and social challenges

Research in Teaching: The module will draw on research articles, books and video from leaders in the field; engage participants in the world of ‘permaculture’ through experiential process and discussion, and require  participants to undertake independent research to develop an understanding of the nature of adaptive organisation practice.

NOTE: This module is suitable for you, if you have limited mobility, you will require basic personal equipment suitable for walking on uneven terrain and inclement weather.  If you are Registered Disabled then this module can be undertaken, and the university and Schumacher College will make reasonable adjustments to accommodate participants with a disability. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to offer a new way of thinking about organisations – as complex social ecosystems with parallels in nature, capable of adaptive self-adjustment … with the right leadership and mind-set.  As such, it is combination of rigorous academic input, but also has a strong bias toward self-reflection based learning, and action inquiry.

‘Change’ and ‘Organisation’ has, throughout the 20th Century, been largely seen as a mechanistic process – engineered, steered and intervened into.  Change Management practices are often based on deep restructuring, alignment, elimination of redundancy and imposition of social control methods that reduce diversity and fragment social fabric.  Each ‘cycle’ of intervention solves a symptom but leaves a trail of depletion and loss of engagement, ensuring escalation of the intervention the next time.  This is the opposite of resilient, and the increasing fragility, ethical problems and loss of confidence in our largest institutions stands testament to the unsustainability of the model.

In many ways, this recent history of internal organisational life and leadership is a direct parallel to the world of agro-industry and food production.  Assumptions of machine-thinking, unlimited growth, depletion cycles (reinforcing further investment in recovery strategies), drive us to plough deeper, spray harder, and seek every more utopian solutions to a problem that is of our own making.  

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. critically discuss the nature and implications of assumptions about organisations and the interventions that nourish or deplete the vitality and resilience of the social fabric of organisation.
  • 2. evaluate a range of theories and perspectives on organisational resilience, antifragility, creative responsivity and leadership drawing on the ‘permaculture’ ideas
  • 3. critically evaluate the potential impact of these ideas and be able to articulate own perspective on the phenomenon of organisation, resilience and leadership.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. analyse and pursue an open-minded curiosity to thinking about organisational patterns, culture, social vitality and leadership;
  • 5. critically evaluate the impact and effectiveness of organisation leadership and change interventions and behaviours;
  • 6. critically reflect on one’s own practice of leading organisations in the light of conceptual and practical insights.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. take a global outlook: apply creative intelligence and ethical imagination to complex problems to ensure that environmental and social governance is taken into account;
  • 8. apply critical thinking: present and defend strategic analyses in multiple forms (written, verbal, digital) based on case material, desk based and empirical research;
  • 9. work with a collaborative mind-set: give and receive feedback at all levels in a confident and respectful manner. Work inclusively across multi-cultural groups to research, explore and prepare a persuasive argument against an assignment or client brief;
  • 10. develop an ethical perspective: improve personal effectiveness through consciously and diligently making decisions on behalf of all stakeholders, environmental, social and financial;
  • 11. demonstrate technological and digital literacy: identify and apply relevant technologies to source, process and communicate accurate information.

Syllabus plan

The module is taught through a mixture of interactive e-learning modules including audio-visual materials and reading, short lectures, and experiential/embodied group work, and is designed to encourage reflection on 'theory in practice' and personal inquiry.  Course participants are expected to take responsibility for their own learning and progress, and will be encouraged to develop their inquiry skills.  

This means a commitment to undertaking e-learning preparation before/after a live session and participating actively in the discussions and experiential processes.  At the end of each day they will be encouraged and supported to pay attention to their upcoming ‘consulting project’, reflecting and reviewing upon their learning in the context of this work.

Students will be facilitated to summarise key learning points from across the lessons, using this summary to create dialogue on how permaculture offers a useful metaphor in leading organisational change. The summative assignment which completes this module will require students to make sense of their prior experience of participating in change and stability processes in communities and organisations, including this MBA group itself, and project forward some intentions (at best) or at least questions relating to their consulting project.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching Activities35Lectures and facilitated group discussions and experiential activities
Guided independent study based on e-learning platform and ELE115Reading, personal research exercise, writing

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral summary of key learning points30 minutes1-11Oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Individual essay1004,500 words1-11Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Individual essay (100%)Individual essay (4,500 words, 100%)1-116 weeks after briefing

Re-assessment notes

Assessment criteria will be as for original assignment, mark capped at 50.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Heffernan, M (2020). Uncharted – How to Map the Future Together.  Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, London.
  • Hamel, G & Zanini, M (2020). Humanocracy – Creating Organizations as amazing as the people inside them. HBR Press, Boston.
  • Scharmer, C O (2008).  The Essentials of Theory U. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc, Oakland.
  • Stacey, R. (2012). Tools and techniques of leadership and management (Meeting the challenges of complexity).  Routledge, Abingdon.
  • Taleb, N. N. (2012). Antifragile (How to live in a world we don’t understand).  Penguin Books, London.
  • Webster, K. (2015). The Circular Economy (A wealth of flows). Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Cowes.
  • Dweck, C S (2017). Mindset – Changing the way you fulfil your potential (2nd edition).  Random House, New York.


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Permaculture options:

BBC Horizon - Farm for the Future

Key words search

Resilience; ‘permaculture’; leadership; organisations

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date