What Can Appreciative Inquiry Do for Your Organization?

Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational change management practice that asks the practitioner to discover what is best about an organization and its members and how to amplify the good, most effective, and most positive attributes of both. As described in A Positive Revolution in Change, by David Copperrider and Diana Whitney, the application of Appreciative Inquiry is in contrast to traditional problem solving methodologies that seek to diagnose a problem, discover a solution, and fix it. Appreciative Inquiry seeks to understand what is working, dream about the future state, and design that future state for optimal personal, team, and organizational performance. While the traditional problem solving method can drain energy and shift moods negatively, the appreciative approach tends to bring energy, lighten moods, and deliver a collective sense of positivity.

This approach is certainly a mental shift for many.  It’s very common to know when something is broken and to instantly go into problem solving and solution creation mode. It requires discipline to change your focus to what is working and ask, “How can we do more of what is working to make our team or organization even better than it is today?”  While it may be a mental shift, it’s a shift worth trying. The outcomes of an appreciative approach are much more impactful, meaningful, and longer lasting than the traditional deficit approach. Often times, multiple positive unforeseen consequences emerge as a result of a planned Appreciative Inquiry approach.

The traditional Appreciative Inquiry approach has four phases:

  • Discovery,
  • Dream,
  • Design, and
  • Destiny. 

In the first phase, discovery, individuals are paired to share stories with each other. The topics and questions that guide the story telling are based on what the organization is trying to achieve. As the stories are shared, confidence builds in what the organization is already doing to be successful. This confidence has a positive impact on the individuals, and a positive mood shift is noticeable. As the stories are shared and debriefed with the larger group, a collective positivity emerges as themes in the stories emerge. The themes that emerge are often referred to as the life giving forces; they are the collective experiences of the organization that represent how it operates optimally.

In the dream phase, the themes from the discovery phase are used to create provocative propositions, or dream propositions, that bridge the best of what is with what could be. The propositions should be provocative enough to challenge the status quo of the organization and push it to the next level of excellence. In this phase a communal sense of hope and excitement overcomes resistance to change, brings organizational members together and heightens the sense of commitment and loyalty to achieve the dreams.

In the design phase, the provocative propositions are ranked by how critical they are to the organization and how likely they are to be adopted. Next, action plans to implement the provocative propositions are created. The execution of the provocative propositions takes place in the destiny phase. Organizational members are generally so excited and committed to the cause through the process that they willingly sign up to take responsibility to execute the provocative propositions. The activity in the destiny phase extends the mood of positivity long after the initial dream phase and the collective upswing in positive attitude has a lasting impact on relationships and the energy of the organization.

Going through the process of Appreciative Inquiry just once can alter the way organizational members approach opportunity for improvement in the future. For more information about Appreciative Inquiry, check out the Appreciative Inquiry Commons hosted by Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. 

By Contributing Writer – Erica Tetuan, Senior Associate, Changeis, Inc.  

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