An Appreciative Inquiry

shutterstock_296982410I’ve recently been working with teams reviewing their progress against goals, celebrating achievements and exploring areas for development.

Most interventions of this kind would involve the team reflecting on their successes and failures. The team would highlight strengths, problem solve for underlying causes of weakness and action plan for change. This is certainly an approach I have taken in the past.

More recently, I’ve been taking a different approach. I’ve been using elements of Appreciative Inquiry. My aim was to move away from approaches that focus on identifying and fixing ‘problems’ or ‘weaknesses’. I wanted to reduce the levels of anxiety I see in people who are being told, constantly, that they need to change.

This anxiety is reduced when progress and growth is born of curiosity for what is and what might be, rather than demands for change coming from a parent-like ‘other’. Sometimes this ‘other’ is our own sense of guilt, inadequacy or insecurity.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) focuses on strengths and is appreciative of all that is and all that might be. It is expansive and aspirational in its view of the individual or team. This compares with problem solving, which tends to be narrow in its focus on what is ‘wrong’.

AI is also a genuine inquiry. To quote¹ Gervase Bushe:

“The theory’s central management insight is that teams, organizations and society evolve in whatever direction we collectively, passionately and persistently ask questions about.”

It is also curious and non-judgemental. It accepts and appreciates the individual as they are, warts and all. In problem solving, labeling something as a ‘weakness’ is to be judgemental. And no one likes to be judged.

Instead of being judgemental, AI helps teams explore alternative ways of being and doing through dialogue and mutual understanding. It recognises that growth is best nurtured from the foundation of one’s strengths and with the motivation that flows from exploring and setting aspirational goals.

Appreciative Inquiry is liberating. It is also very effective.

What it isn’t is ‘pink and fluffy’. AI doesn’t ignore problems. Genuine development needs are, instead, viewed through an appreciative lens. This allows for a more structured, less anxious conversation around areas of genuine concern. It allows for the exploration of strengths that might be deployed to mitigate any weaknesses.

In essence, Appreciative Inquiry supports the development of presence. It reduces anxiety, stimulates creativity and develops openness to change.

The many approaches developed around the central AI process cannot be covered in this short post, so I encourage you to follow up here or by looking at the references below.

If you would like to explore how interventions based on Appreciative Inquiry can help you or your organisation please contact me.


¹Bushe, G. R. in Kessler, E.H. (Ed.) (2013) Encyclopedia of Management Theory. Sage Publications.
Cooperrider, D. L. & Whitney, D. (2005) Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco.
Hammond, S. A. (1998) The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry. Thin Book Publishing, Oregon.
Whitney, D. & Trosten-Bloom, A. (2010) The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change. Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco.

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