Bill Torbert

Having received both his BA in Politics and Economics and his PhD in Individual and Organizational Behavior from Yale, Bill served as Founder and Director of both the War on Poverty Yale Upward Bound Program and the Theatre of Inquiry. He also taught leadership at Southern Methodist University, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and then, from 1978-2008 at the Carroll Graduate School of Management at Boston College, where he also served as Graduate Dean (the BC MBA program’s ranking rising from below the top 100 to #25 during his tenure) and later served as Director of the Organizational Transformation Doctoral Program.

In addition to consulting to dozens of companies, not-for-profits, and governmental agencies, Torbert has served on numerous Boards, notably at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care when it was rated the #1 HMO nationally in the US; and, for twenty years, at Trillium Asset Management, the original and largest independent Socially Responsible Investing firm… founded by Bill’s friend Joan Bavaria… a rare CEO who was at once visionary, strategic, executive, and also truly collaborative.

As of 2014, Bill serves as a Principal of Action Inquiry Associates and as a founding member of the Action Inquiry Fellowship.


I spent most of my childhood in Europe, going to Spanish, Austrian, and French schools, because my father was a United States Foreign Service Officer. This meant I learned a half dozen languages when I was young (my younger brother learned even more).

At some later point in my mid-twenties, I realized that if I talked to myself in different languages about the same thing, I found myself going in quite different directions in each language, with different feelings, and different implications for action. If I thought about something in three different languages before deciding on a course of action, I found my decisions worked out better and that I felt more fully present in the subsequent activity.

I now believe this kind of listening-among-languages attuned me to noticing how people speaking the same language can mean very different things because they are operating from different developmental action-logics. (Such misunderstandings are reduced as one learns more of these developmental “languages.”)

When a person or an organization learns a new action-logic, it involves a major developmental transformation. Such developmental transformations are difficult to cultivate because they cannot be caused by unilateral power, only through vulnerable, mutually-transforming power, a kind of power as yet virtually unknown and unpracticed socially. My aim throughout my adult life has been to learn more about how to exercise mutually-transforming inquiry, power, and love.

Since my retirement from academia in 2008, I have found myself most engaged when offering intensive 3-day workshops such as the Action Inquiry workshop, the Strategic-Systems Leadership workshop, or Alchemists’ Workparties.

Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry is ultimately a form of simultaneous research and practice, demanding cultivation of a special attention. With the proper support, we can each be attempting CDAI at work, at home, and with friends, the more so the more we attend to the question of what kinds of action generate integrity, mutuality, timely change, and outcomes that are more just and sustainable.

Today, I focus my CDAI contributions primarily through my role at Action Inquiry Associates working with my friends and colleagues – both those who are taking leadership roles in AIA Hilary Bradbury-Huang, Dana Carman, Elaine Herdman-Barker, Ed Kelly, Michael Krot, Mary Stacey, and Nancy Wallis … and the rest of the Action Inquiry Fellowship.

Read my CV