Session-Thriving in an Uncertain World: Moving Beyond Crisis through Action Learning


Action Learning has a powerful ability to deliver multiple outcomes in a short period of time. This is its greatest promise for an organization in the midst of a crisis.


In this session we’ll explore the DNA Cafe, an action learning process recently featured in Life Science Leader Magazine, and designed to support a global biotech company during a ‘perfect storm’ at one of its manufacturing sites—a contamination crisis, a change leadership vacuum, and a subsequent acquisition which required significant transformation.


The DNA Cafe action learning process became the leadership team’s primary vehicle for re-building organizational resilience and developing change leadership capabilities in its 100+ management team.


We’ll follow the team’s journey and outcomes over a three year period as they move beyond a crisis orientation and learn to navigate their VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment. We’ll discuss the role the six coaches played in scaffolding the participant experience to cultivate a more expansive mind, develop peer coaching skills, and the strengthen relationships to facilitate cross-functional collaboration. In particular, we’ll explore how adult development theory (Kegan, Torbert, Cook-Greuter) combined with and new practices such as polarity thinking, appreciative inquiry, and wicked questioning to help participants grow beyond their technical orientation to become confident systems thinkers capable of leading change in uncertain times. 

Mary Stacey MA founded Context Consulting in 2004 and combines her role as managing director with select client engagements, innovative projects in leadership development, and university teaching. She most often works with executive leadership teams who need to increase their effectiveness in the midst of escalating complexity. An Action Learning practitioner in multinational companies for twenty years, Mary’s designs are known for their light touch and powerful impact. A recent multi-year program in a global biotech company was rated by 90% of participants as a highly valuable investment in their leadership team. The foundation of Mary’s practice is a developmental approach that allows leaders to reach beyond short-term behavior change and expand their capacity in ways that are well-matched to today’s interconnected, rapidly changing environments.  She is a co-founder of Action Inquiry Associates with Bill Torbert, which has developed the Global Leadership Profile. Mary is also qualified to administer and debrief the Leadership Circle 360, Leadership Agility 360, and Immunity to Change process. She recently initiated the Burren Executive Leadership Retreat in Ireland, to which she brings years of collaboration with visual artists, musicians, poets and dancers, and a depth of experience cultivating forms of leadership that are more systemic, creative, and adaptive. Mary holds an MA in Organizational Leadership and Learning from Royal Roads University, a Diploma in Counseling, and executive coaching certification. She teaches in the Advanced Strategic Leadership program at the University of Toronto, where she makes her home.