Creating an Environment Where Innovation is Possible. Member Spotlight: Crista Renner

Crista Renner is an experienced mediator, systemic conflict and culture specialist, and workplace restoration practitioner based in Guelph, Ontario. She describes her introduction to MBBI through Rotary as “an eye opener,” because “I didn’t know this path existed.” Explaining that her interest has always been in international work, working with MBBI has allowed her to “chart my path for where I want to go next.”


With a background in marketing, public relations and communications, Crista co-founded Juice Inc. in 2002, a company based on the idea that if employees feel energised, engaged and fulfilled, there’s more space for high performance and innovation. Not only are they better employees, but “they are just better humans, because they’re doing things that give life purpose and meaning.” As the business grew, Crista felt compelled to return to study, settling on a BA in Justice Studies. As part of the course, she became certified in Mediation, and realised that “this was the path I really wanted.” In 2013, she returned to study a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University, University of Waterloo, intrigued by the intersection between entrepreneurship and conflict.

After graduating, Crista began working for the University of Waterloo, as part of an incubator called Velocity. Beyond traditional return on investment (ROI), Crista is interested in capitalising on social and environmental impact metrics. In her role with Velocity, Crista increasingly found that she was working with founders and co-founders who were experiencing conflict, and so she embarked on some research with the Grebel Peace Incubator at Conrad Grebel College, to explore the causes of this conflict, as well as how the ability to navigate conflict affects an organization’s ability to innovate. This, she says, is how she “fell into” her current line of work.

Over the years, Crista has continued to work on systemic conflict, investigating “the underlying factors that cause conflict in a workplace or in a start-up culture, as a company is scaling and growing.” What initially interested her about mediation in this space is that it “was an extension of how you can relate deep need for conversation and communication in a workplace, and the conversations that are needed to make sure that a workplace is a healthy place to work.”

The unSpeakable 

Crista’s current work with unSpeakable involves helping both individuals and teams to navigate workplace tensions including board disputes, start-up and scale-up problems, conflictual or bullying behaviours, and engagement difficulties. She describes her work as “helping people to create change and show up in a way that creates the opportunity for people to speak truths.” She tells me that one of the current pillars of this work is fairness, explaining that “when employees feel justly treated, they’re highly engaged. When they feel like they are not justly treated, there’s high conflict.” And so, she concludes, it’s not necessarily about engagement, but about fostering a just work environment.

Nowadays, employees and workplaces are becoming increasingly value-oriented, and Crista believes that this is fundamental to how businesses will operate moving forward. She explains that, “if companies are going to hire and retain employees, they need to make sure their values are aligned with employees and the people they’re trying to hire.” Crista is hopeful that mediation can be a useful tool to get issues on the table, and to get people coming together to discuss big issues in society. She also finds hope in the fact that an increasing number of start-ups and scale-ups are interested in creating this kind of just work environment. While she admits that Juice Inc. may have been ahead of its time when it launched 20 years ago, nowadays it makes her hopeful that more companies are recognising that “this is the way of the future.”

Towards a hopeful future

In addition to her work at unSpeakable, Crista continues to teach classes in social media management and strategy at Conestoga College. She sees social media as another extension of how organisational structures and values can create dysfunction, explaining that lack of structure and values we see on the internet contributes to the problems our society is currently facing in this digital age. To illustrate this idea, she compares the internet to a country, asking “what does this ‘country’ need to actually be a healthy, functioning place?” She describes how, if properly regulated, the internet has a huge capacity for promoting and sustaining peace. This question of “how do we use technology in all its forms to promote peace?” inspired Crista’s work with the University of Waterloo’s Problem Lab,  and Grebel’s Peace incubator which is currently developing PeaceTech Tools, aimed at exploring the intersections between peace and technology.

With such an extensive, successful, and varied career, I wonder what advice Crista would give to others, who are perhaps just starting out. “Listen to your inner voice,” she tells me, explaining that in life, we are either called to do things or driven to do things. “When you’re called,” she tells me, “it comes internally. It might not make sense, but you show up and you land in the place you’re supposed to. When you’re driven, it’s by external motivation, and you burn out, or you feel like you’re chasing something, or like you’re never good enough.” So, if you’re wondering what to do or where to go next, “listen to that voice.” Ask yourself what’s calling you, and what’s driving you.

As we part ways, I’m certain that Crista leaves me not only with good life advice, but with renewed hope for the future.

Article by Natalie Dewar, MBBI Writer