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.’
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:
Cause and effect analysis
Options and solution analysis
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.
Very often practitioners use the 4D technique, made up of questions that focus on:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
These types of questions help people design what would make a successful project work in the future.
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:
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.
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.
Updated on: 12 July, 2022
Originally published: 13 January, 2010
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