Innovative leadership using Theory U

Theory U is a  process for innovative change in teams, organisations, and communities. It helps us tackle our toughest  unresolved challenges. It offers fantastic insights to leaders too, about how to bring about meaningful change and innovation.

A bit about me and TheoryU

 I have  been learning about Theory U since 2015.  I had co-led MIT’s version of Theory U, u.lab and had the pleasure of meeting and connecting  on projects with MIT’s Senior Lecturer Otto Scharmer, who wrote  when he visited the UK.

I have also led  innovation projects  in the UK, based on TheoryU.  This was part of my work on community and on climate change.

TheoryU: A framework for innovation

Innovation enables us to be resilient…and resilience gives us the strength to innovate. In a time of volatility, uncertainty, adversity and chaos we all need processes to help us to develop leadership,  collaboration as well as facing our  challenges.

Theory U enables you to connect with innovations that come from a meaningful place rather than knee-jerk reactions. It is one approach that offers both an innovation framework and a collaborative approach for teams and leaders. You can read about one of the TheoryU tools and how we used it at a day learning event here.

What are the leadership lessons in TheoryU?

When you take part in a TheoryU type process you will experience  – rather than hear about  – the lessons.  They are to be lived.  In the absence of that happening here and now, here is a quick summary….

Deep listening  and paying attention

This one won’t be a surprise – Otto states that the most important leadership skill is to listen and pay attention.  To others, to stakeholders and to self – to your own intuition.  It’s a mindful type of listening that is embedded in empathy for others.  And to listen deeply to ourselves there is a practice of journaling with guided questions: e.g.     Emerging future: Where do you feel ‘the future’ is in your work right now? (future themes, addressing future challenges, sensing enthusiasm for the future in projects.)

When I met with Otto I noticed that the way he listened was full of deep attention  – it was a significant feature of his engagement with you. He states: “The power of attention is the real superpower of our age. Attention, aligned with intention, can make mountains move.”

An eye on the horizon

Throughout u.lab I discovered tools for keeping an eye on the horizon – noticing the trends that were emerging in society, community, organisations and teams.  This is a fundamental skill for any team player and leader too.

This way to pay attention and attune through open non-judgmental listening, journaling, team coaching and other tools gives rise to an inner wisdom about the next steps you need to take. 

We used the tools for keeping ‘an eye on the horizon’  on  a  TheoryU  group I was co leading on food poverty in London.  As a result  we were collectively  inspired  to co-create London’s first Community Fridge (now closed due to Covid)  This was an energising  journey that sparked an interest in other communities setting up their own community fridges and led to global, national and city wide press coverage

Find out more

TheoryU is a powerful structure for innovation for leaders, teams, organisations, and communities.  To learn more drop Andry a line about facilitated TheoryU  learning events and projects for UK organisations.

Useful Links

Understanding collaborative change, listening and problem solving

Theory U is a complete process for innovative change. Andry has been learning about Theory U since 2015. Learning Journeys are just one of the Theory U tools.

What are Learning Journeys’ for?

Theory U ‘Learning Journeys’ encourage you to move out of your daily routine and allow you to observe more deeply and to experience a workplace, team or community challenge, or system through the lens of different.

What did our group do for their Learning Journey?

12 climate change and development specialists visited a local community. They interacted at a deep listening level, with some of the key stakeholders. Such as market stall holders, market managers, local shoppers, local economy activists, leaders of social enterprise support organisations, representatives of local businesses. These are all people working on real economic and community challenges.

Our aim was to deepen our understanding of resilience within the community – economic, personal and community resilience and to take away learning to inform global development work.

During the day, we observed, talked, listened, asked questions and reflected – all with guiding principles, informed by the techniques of Presencing Institute and the work on Thory U by Otto Scharmer. The group were led and supported by Andry and supported by Jane Clarke, international development specialist.

What was the learning from this one day?

Every person in the group had some insights from the day about how to bring about collaborative change:

Managing Change ‘Change evolves over time for the better, when more people and greater diversity of ideas are involved’. Using the Learning Journey technique to discover new ways to engage face to face with your staff, teams, policy-makers, investors or stakeholders can take you to a deeper level of understanding – beyond consultation – and stimulate new possibilities.

Listening and neutral observation” Sometimes we listen with an answer in mind… we don’t give space to listen and absorb”. An early response from the team was just how willing people were to engage with us if we give them the time and space. Participants on the Learning Journey day could see how a different way of engaging would give them an experience that was the polar opposite of this. By dropping assumptions and, cynicism, judgments about people, places and solutions you potentially could improve outcomes.

Reenergising others and ourselves at work: A clear message in participants’ comments were that this Learning Journey was an energising experience. If you are energised you are more inspired, connected, and engaged with your work and your career.. At its heart, the Learning journey process (as part of the tools and approaches from the Presencing Institute), also aims to support individuals to reconnect with their passion for work, career and life: ”The sign of a good course is how much I have been talking to other people about what I learnt …as it has changed the way I engage with people and probably what I do next. Result! Many many thanks.’

The Learning journey tool is part of a wider body of techniques and approaches (Theory U methodology and Presencing Institute tools and approaches) that can be used to help design and bring about collaborative change at many levels. This approach to can help to tackle tough and complex challenges in organisations, communities or even globally. You can use the tools and principles in many ways. For example when designing a team meeting, when starting a new piece of work with a new team, when working with a new or refreshing a familiar context, or when you are seeking new ideas.

• Thanks for kind support from Brixton Bid, Impact Brixton, Brixton Pound Café, Pop Brixton and Brixton Station Road Community Market.

Andry enjoys working with these innovative tools for change, systems change, collaboration, resilience, action learning and building and improving partnerships. If you would like to find out more about working with Andry and MIT’s U Theory tools and approaches, please contact:


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