“We can’t ignore problems—we just need to approach them from the other side.” — David Cooperider and Diana Whitney
Appreciative Inquiry sets the stage for a transformational journey to bring out the best in everyone.
With Appreciative Inquiry, anyone can become a catalyst for positive change and make a difference in the world.
What I like about Appreciative Inquiry is the focus on strengths and creating teams and organizations that give their best where they have their best to give.
By focusing on the positive core, engaging in strengths-based inquiry and change, and fostering a growth mindset, leaders and individuals can co-create a better future.
But change and transformation are notoriously tough to achieve and sustain.
So, let’s address that in this article and step into what you can do to drive change and transformation more successfully with Appreciative Inquiry.
If you’re going to use Appreciative Inquiry as your change and transformation framework, then I want to set you up for success. I’ll do that by outlining the keys to success, walking through the keys to empowering change and walking through what to watch out for.
Appreciative Inquiry is a Framework for Positive Change and Transformation
If you’re seeking a powerful framework for creating positive change within organizations and communities, Appreciative Inquiry can be the key to your success.
Rather than focusing on problems, this approach emphasizes finding the strengths and positive aspects of a situation and using them as a foundation to build upon.
With Appreciative Inquiry, leaders and individuals can engage in strengths-based inquiry and change, foster a growth mindset, and co-create a better future.
This alternative approach to typical problem solving provides a way to explore, define, and refine what a great organization looks like when everyone is at their best, setting the stage for a transformational journey to bring out the best in everyone.
The 2 Keys to Achieving Successful Transformational Outcomes
In a study that analyzed Appreciative Inquiry applications, Gervase Bushe and Aniq Kassam found only 35% of the cases resulted in transformational outcomes, despite following the recommended principles, methods, and processes of Appreciative Inquiry.
Bushe and Kassam conclude that two qualities of Appreciative Inquiry are necessary to achieving Appreciative Inquiry’s transformative potential:
- A focus on changing how people think instead of what people do.
- A focus on supporting self-organizing change processes that flow from new ideas.
A focus on changing how people think instead of what people do
The phrase “A focus on changing how people think instead of what people do” suggests that instead of just changing or modifying someone’s actions, the goal is to change the underlying mindset or way of thinking that drives those actions.
In the context of Appreciative Inquiry, this could mean encouraging team members to adopt an Appreciative Iniqury mindset and embrace Appreciative Inquiry values and principles, rather than just implementing Appreciative Inquiry practices and techniques.
A focus on supporting self-organizing change processes that flow from new ideas
The phrase “A focus on supporting self-organizing change processes that flow from new ideas” means placing emphasis on facilitating change processes that arise from new ideas and allowing them to organically develop and take shape, rather than imposing a rigid, top-down approach to change.
It involves creating a supportive environment where people feel empowered to take initiative and experiment with new approaches to problem-solving, and where collaboration and continuous learning are encouraged. This can lead to more effective and sustainable change, as it is driven by the collective insights and efforts of the team, rather than being dictated by external factors or imposed structures.
6 Conditions that Empower People for Positive Change
Without this support, people may be hesitant or resistant to change, which can lead to a lack of progress or even failure.
By creating the conditions for positive change, including freedom to be known, heard, dream, choose to contribute, act with support, and be positive, you can empower individuals to be their best selves and drive sustainable, meaningful change.
- Freedom to be known in relationships: People’s identities form and evolve in relationships. AI levels the playing field by bridging the gap across hierarchies.
- Freedom to be heard: Open conversations don’t just give people space to speak up—everyone is committed to listen to everyone else.
- Freedom to dream in community: Leaders must encourage people to unleash their individual dreams and build a larger, collective one.
- Freedom to choose to contribute: AI reconnects people with their most profound purpose—people feel reenergized and determined. People contribute because they want to, not because they are forced to.
- Freedom to act with support: When everyone is listening and caring about each other, the desire to act increases—the system stimulates people to actively participate.
- Freedom to be positive: Culture is the behavior we reward and promote. When negativity is no longer omnipresent, people re-learn to focus on positive conversations.
While Appreciative Inquiry is a powerful tool for driving positive change, it is not without its limitations.
One potential drawback is the emphasis on the positive, which can lead to overlooking the flaws and weaknesses of an organization.
David Egan and Kathleen Lancaster are two practitioners and scholars who have written extensively on Appreciative Inquiry and its applications.
They have co-authored several books on the topic, including Quick Guide to the 4-D Model of Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change.
Their work focuses on the practical application of Appreciative Inquiry in a variety of settings, including organizations, communities, and schools.
According to research by Egan and Lancaster, some key Watch Outs include:
- Difficult interpersonal situations being overlooked
- Feelings of anger or frustration being unvoiced
- Dissatisfied organization members retreating from the process due to feeling excluded
It’s important to be aware of these potential pitfalls in order to fully leverage the benefits of Appreciative Inquiry.
How To Address Watchouts
Here are some pragmatic tips to address the Watch Outs:
- Avoid groupthink: Encourage diverse perspectives and avoid groupthink through expert facilitation, promoting positive dissent and welcoming difficult conversations.
- Reframe challenges: Address existing issues and challenges, using positivity and strengths as a lens to evaluate and reframe them as positive inquiries.
- Create psychological safety: Create psychological safety, promoting a culture of open dissent and constructive conflict resolution.
- Use positive inquiries: Use positive inquiries to address problems and challenges, reframing them as opportunities for growth and improvement.
- Practice to improve: Remember that mastery and practice are necessary to effectively implement any new method, and that expertise cannot be achieved through theoretical knowledge alone.
Change the World with Appreciative Inquiry
I believe that this framework can be a powerful tool for driving positive change in any organization or community. The focus on strengths, positive core, and growth mindset can inspire individuals and teams to co-create a better future.
However, it’s important to be aware of the potential limitations and pitfalls of Appreciative Inquiry, such as overlooking flaws and difficult interpersonal situations.
By addressing these Watch Outs and creating an environment of open dissent and constructive conflict resolution, you can fully leverage the benefits of Appreciative Inquiry.
So if you’re considering using Appreciative Inquiry for your organization or community, I encourage you to embrace the power of positive change and be mindful of the potential challenges along the way.
With the right mindset and approach, anyone can become a catalyst for positive change and make a difference in the world.
Get the Books
These are the Appreciative Inquiry books that I found to be the most useful. Appreciative Coaching is especially interesting because the authors, Sara Orem, Jaqueline Binkert, and Ann Clancy did a great job of bringing appreciative inquiry to coaching.
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