Powerful Appreciative Inquiry Questions For Positive Change

How do most organisations approach change?

In our experience, most are driven to change because of current circumstances that don’t support their future goals, objectives, or vision. In other words, they react or respond to the situations they face and then drive the changes to act in response to what is occurring. Some is within their control, some without.

Most likely, firms change to try to fix the areas in the business that have gone wrong, and this has driven assumptions that we should take a deficit-based viewpoint of the systems we are working with.

Then along came Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Consultants who worked with organisations going through change noticed there was a lot of negativities associated with change. In many cases, the questions asked forced a negative mindset, so they relooked at how the whole concept of change was approached and decided to adjust the very nature of the questioning technique utilised.

Instead of looking at weaknesses that needed to be fixed, they approached situations by looking at strengths. Appreciative can be defined as “approving, positive, favourable, supportive”, and Inquiry is described as “investigation, question, analysis, probe”. So, a strength-based conversation would uncover positive, forward-looking initiatives through ‘supportive analysis’ or ‘favourable investigation.’


What is Appreciative Inquiry?

Some definitions of appreciative inquiry have included:

“A positive approach to leadership development and organisational change” (Investopedia.com)

“A model that seeks to engage stakeholders in self-determined change” (Wikipedia.org)

“The art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential”. (betterevaluation.org)

“A way to encourage a group of people to adopt positive change. It focuses on what’s working, rather than what’s not, and leads to people co-designing their own future”. (positivepsychology.com)

What appreciative inquiry aims to do is tap into the skillsets of people in an organisation, along with its values and beliefs, when it is working at top capacity, or when its strengths are being utilised effectively.

The following table gives a clearer indication of the differences between how businesses tend to deal with issues involving change, and how applying AI could create another paradigm:

How organisations tend to deal with change
How Appreciative Inquiry Model applies

Problem identified

Cause and effect analysis

Options and solution analysis

Action Planning

Appreciating what we have now and how it works

What might be in the future

Conversations on what should happen

Creating a solid, value-based future

You can probably guess from the above that the appreciative inquiry model addresses the same concerns but against a differing paradigm, helping people to apply a positive approach to any changes that need to be made.

And that brings us to exactly ‘how’ it can be utilised in a business. Through deep-dive, focused questioning.


Appreciative Inquiry Questioning

Very often practitioners use the 4D technique, made up of questions that focus on:

• Discovery
• Dream
• Design
• Destiny

These can be used when running team meetings, as a facilitator in a group setting, a leadership team analysing the next steps in a process, or a myriad of other situations that will focus on appreciating the nature of inquiry.


Discovery Questions

Here, people investigate the current situation and focus on the strengths of the team, group, business, or individuals involved. By using positive questions, the team can grow, develop, and become agile in its thinking of possible ways forward.

The aim is to get a clear appreciation of what the core strengths are in the area we are discussing. We can assess the nature of discovery be the quality of questions asked. Here are a few taster questions:

  • What good ideas came out of that project for you? What effect did it have on you?
  • What do you remember most about it?
  • How could you utilise the strength of the team on other projects?
  • How did you measure your successes?
  • In what ways did it positively impact your other team members?
  • What strengths did you bring to the project?
  • How did you collaborate on tasks within the project?
  • What positive emotions did you share during the project?
  • What strengths do you as a team feel you will be able to bring to future projects?

You’ll notice how these questions create an appreciative mindset towards the project, helping people to focus on what was good, and accentuating the strengths they have showed and worked through.


Dream Questions

These questions focus on enabling positive focus on future aspirations for the team or organisation, placing the emphasis on what will go right, rather than the possible barriers to success that will inevitably come up.

If a team has already established (through discovery) what their strengths are, you can utilise this information to ascertain what the future may look like. Example questions could include:

  • What is so great about our products and services?
  • What great results do our clients get from us?
  • What does this mean to our team?
  • How should we communicate our ideas in the future?
  • What innovative ideas can we dream up in the future?
  • What would a successful future for us as a team look like?
  • How would we celebrate that success?
  • What strengths can you personally use to make this success become a reality?
  • How should this team be structured to make that happen?
  • In what direction should we be going to ensure we get successful outcomes on our next projects?

These ‘dream’ questions allow us to be carefree and creative in what we hope to achieve. By focussing on the successes, we know we can achieve, the strengths of the team are utilised to give us a clearer picture of how we can put them into action.


Design Questions

It’s at this point that we start to see actions put into place. The positive, appreciative questions we cover here help people to see what they need to physically do and how they need to behave to accomplish the dream goals. Ideas could include:

  • What actions did you take previously that contributed to the success of the previous projects?
  • What did you specifically learn that could also be applied in the future?
  • What specific steps could you take to start the next project?
  • How will you ensure the foundation is laid for future success?
  • Where do you need to focus to make positive progress?
  • How will you design a process that will prove to be successful?
  • What measurements will you put in place that will ensure success?
  • How will you keep the momentum going when working on this new project?
  • What will motivate you to get the results you need to achieve?

These types of questions help people design what would make a successful project work in the future.


Destiny Questions

These questions will assist team members by enquiring how they can learn, empower themselves and improve their futures while working with the team. Some models talk of this stage as ‘deployment’ and it offers occasions to assess where they are and where they are going.
Sample questions could include:

  • How are you going to start?
  • What mindset do you require to make it work?
  • Which of your strengths are you going to deploy to make this work?
  • If you were to change one thing, where would you begin?
  • What do you wish your end goal to look like?
  • How could you improve the results you are looking to attain?
  • What do you hope to achieve if there were no obstacles?
  • Where do you want this project to take you in your career?
  • What new ideas can you put into practice to make this project work?
  • What do you think success in the project will mean for the team?
  • What changes do you see occurring as you achieve success with this project?
  • What overall purpose does this project serve for you, the team, and the organisation?
  • How can you apply what you learn carrying out this project that will help you develop your strengths and skillsets?
  • What future is being created by being a part of this team for you?

The very nature of this thought process means you focus on the future that could be. Having a clear purpose and a big enough ‘why’ will focus the team’s attention on what they CAN achieve, formulating plans on the way to overcome barriers and create new options and ideas.

Appreciative inquiry is normally covered on our Management Training or Change Management Training programmes. It’s an approach that requires buy-in from a lot of people hence it’s most suited to in-house courses rather than our open Management Skills Courses.

The Final Word On Appreciative Inquiry

We can see that asking questions of a positive nature can build the strengths of individuals, teams, and organisations, as they focus on the direction they can go, rather than highlighting the reasons why it can’t be done. By the way, check out Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model for some practical tips on how to implement change in the right way.

People share positive, clear, open views when the inquiries home in on answers and solutions rather than problems, challenges, and issues. People’s potential is designed and tapped into, as they buy into visions, missions, and values, committing to long-term goals, buying into the strategies that encompass the whole business’s ethos and culture.

Applying Appreciative Inquiry throughout the organisation will encourage all to take responsibility for driving positive results, initiating innovative thinking, and designing a future that can be as engaging as it is invigorating for team members. It requires a cultural change and hence that’s why we recommend training your leaders on the subject through company wide Management Development Programmes.

Thanks again,


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 12 July, 2022

Originally published: 13 January, 2010

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