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Leading Resilient Organisations

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.

Full module specification

Module title:Leading Resilient Organisations
Module code:MBAM942
Module level:M
Academic year:2021/2
Module lecturers:
  • Caryn Vanstone - Convenor
Module credit:10
ECTS value:






Duration of module: Duration (weeks) - term 3:

4 days

Module aims

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.

‘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. 

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate critical awareness of 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, ante-fragility, creative responsivity and leadership drawing on the ‘permaculture’ ideas
  • 3. critically evaluate the potential impact of these ideas and be able to articulate their own perspective on the phenomenon of organisation, resilience and leadership.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 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

  • 7. present and defend strategic analyses in multiple forms (written, verbal, digital) based on case material, desk based and empirical research;
  • 8. give and receive feedback at all levels, building confidence and developing trust that enables Self and others to take more assertive actions;
  • 9. work effectively in multi-cultural groups to research, explore and prepare a persuasive and carefully considered argument against an assignment or client brief;
  • 10. improve personal effectiveness through consciously and diligently developing own communication skills.

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 activities28Lectures and facilitated group discussions and experiential activities
Guided independent study based on e-learning platform72Reading, personal research exercise, writing

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral summary of key learning points30 minutes1,9Oral 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 essay1003000 words2-10Written feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Individual essayIndividual essay 3000 words 100%2-10Six weeks after briefing

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 them 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.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Alvesson, M. & Spicer, A. (2011). Metaphors we live by (Understanding leadership in the real world)
  • 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.

Permaculture options:

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