Business School and Business Innovation in Place and Space through Relationship

It is the 10th year of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), an example of a democratic peer-partner based entrepreneurial community of businesses and business schools.

Prior to the larger group gathering there was the third ‘collaborative inquiry’ meeting of the first peer-based learning Global Innovation Cohort that began in St Gallen, met in New York, and now Oulu.

It focuses on the prototyping of a vision for new forms of management and leadership education in the world, forms that are the ‘best for the world’. Very refreshing when so many are still wanting to simply be the best in the world – whatever the consequences on and for others.

I am energised by this on-going community of co-learners, who are a committed and prototyping group of 20 plus people of business school faculty, business, change agents, entrepreneurs and learning facilitators. They are practising more whole person approaches to innovate and apply change at the three levels of ‘I’, ‘We’ and ‘All of Us’.

As we gathered in nature for the second day, the conviction and sense of interconnection was palpable. For me it renews, refreshes and grounds my practice and application in often harsh and ‘sleeping walking’ environments.

There are unique and demanding initiatives being undertaken by three self-managing clusters that have emerged within the cohort, formed through a process of each person considering their own experiences of innovation, seeking their own dream for doing the best for the world, and developing relationship between each other and the whole.

It is not an easy process, and yet so often a rewarding one. At times it has had a strong task focus, at others there has been profound sharing of personal journeys, questions of trust and direction, challenges to the approaches and each other, as well as the unfolding of ways of working and being together that harnesses innovation through relationship as well as over space and place.

As part of a worldwide movement that is seeking to change the face of the content, pedagogy and impact of business education it is a small ‘do-tank’. But in terms of building supportive, encouraging, challenging, and relational practice that is inclusive, responsible, intentional, caring, and has impact on those involved and beyond, it is a genuine and authentic approach that honours the person, each other, the systems and contexts we live and work within and the planet we live upon.

Each inquiry cycle meeting begins with a space for reflection and sharing. As one of four team facilitators and co-design group, I have been starting gatherings and groups in this way for over 30 years.

I love that such methodologies are finding their way into contexts that would often shy away from a more whole person approach, and yet I feel that they are potent not through the technique or the person initiating them, but rather the spirit of the time and the readiness and recognised need for deeper connection and meaningful action by more and more people and communities within the mainstream of business and education. Whilst sometimes dressed up as improving performance or developing some purpose more effectively, for me it is as a result of individuals needing to find more meaning beyond themselves and their immediate relationships, to make a difference in a distressed world. A response to a call that insists on change and the need to learn for us all.

Within the cohort, through sharing, we co-create how we use the time together, ‘we are not done until we are all agreed’, and then work flows between the ‘I’, ‘We’ and ‘All of Us’ – sometimes it is turbulent, sometimes energising, often demanding, occasionally beautiful, at other times profoundly tedious, but we move together and learn, and mostly we improve as a community of co-researchers and actioneers.

Whilst we have agreed we can each share our own learning, we will work out together in Barcelona, how much of the group learning and detailed process we will offer. For me, the prototyping of new technologies for learning, developing relationship, achieving collaborative purpose, and doing the best for the world, has lead me to value time with others more deeply, listen to my own being and share more openly, connect with the wider lives of my colleagues and fellow peers, get help to sustain and develop my own commitments, and be awake to the necessary phases of a developing learning community, without attempting to ‘push the river’.

The methods include:

  • real world challenges for the co-inquirers to bring innovation and commitment to change
  • semi structured time and opportunities for development dialogues
  • opportunities for personal reflection and sharing
  • information co-ordination in the space between the places
  • use of physical movement and awareness to engender embodied practice
  • group techniques for transparency, visibility and decision making
  • rounds and check-ins
  • focused task groups alongside inter-connectivity
  • external viewing points for ‘windows on other perspectives’
  • Whole Person Learning approaches
  • introductions in different places to social, organisational, technological innovations and initiatives
  • collaborative inquiry cycles
  • processes to engender imagination, freedom and fearless practice
  • tenacity and perseverance
  • listening and encouragement.

In October 2014 the next Innovation Cohort will form. It will be initiated in Cleveland, Ohio at a gathering of the GRLI. It is another of the many CoRAs (Community of Responsible Action) of the GRLI, focused on the Agenda 50+20 for changing management and leadership education.

As I landed in Helsinki I was sad not to be with the wider GRLI but know that the energy, purpose, commitment, relationship and sense of community will act as a catalyst for sustained actions.

Now back in the UK I prepare for a day’s facilitation with the board of a well-known business – the focus is ‘Values in Practice’ and is part of an 18-month development process that integrates medium term business urgencies with long term values, affirming planet, people and ‘beyond economic’ prosperity.

They are a joy to work with, and whilst part of me looks to Oulu, I feel part of an interconnected whole that seeks to innovate at a very human level through and out of relationship.

The most potent place for me is the space between structures, between phases, between places, and discovering how to thrive in the relationship ‘between’ is part of my own life-long journey. I owe much to the innovative life enabled by the GRLI and now my friends and peers on the 2014 Innovation Cohort.

Originally published by The Oasis School of Human Relations in its blog Evolving Whole Person Learning Business School and Business Innovation. It has been reproduced with permission.


Rhodes Business School has actively participated in this first Innovation Cohort – the only organisation from a developing/emerging economy.  All other participants on the Innovation Cohort are based in Europe or North America, so experiences shared from a range of perspectives and differing needs, but with focus and passion for improving management education (Also see 50+20 ManagementEducation FOR the World at