Appreciative Inquiryby Andy Smith
- Why should I use Appreciative Inquiry in preference to other problem-solving approaches?
- How do I consult my customers/service users/clients about how to improve things without it becoming a whinge-fest?
- How do I get my new team to get to know and trust each other quickly, so they can start working effectively together?
- How can I involve all my staff in building the new vision for the organisation?
- What do I need to know in order to make appreciative interviews work?
- What are ‘provocative propositions’?
- My team is persistently underperforming in one area and we have run out of ideas for improvement. There doesn’t appear to be any one cause, and as soon as we fix one problem others seem to appear.
1. Why should I use Appreciative Inquiry in preference to other problem-solving approaches?
The traditional ‘diagnose and prescribe’ approach to problem solving works well with simple problems, but in complex systems (and anything involving human beings is a complex system) the attempt to fix the problem may cause several others elsewhere in the system. Also, putting a new system in place may lose what is effective and motivating about the old system.
Appreciative Inquiry avoids these pitfalls by basing future solutions on the foundation of what is already working.
2. How do I consult my customers/service users/clients about how to improve things without it becoming a whinge-fest?
A 5D process, bringing together everyone involved in the change in one room, can be completed in as little as half a day. The format and the questions are carefully designed to keep participants focused on the positive, and to liberate their creative thinking.
3. How do I get my new team to get to know and trust each other quickly, so they can start working effectively together?
Having team members do appreciative interviews with each other based on a topic like ‘How do we work together effectively as a team?’ will encourage them to open up to each other. The appreciative interview format helps participants to move from defensiveness and advocacy to openness and learning, and builds understanding between people in different roles.
It also gives an opportunity to gain ideas about effective teamworking from the various participants’ previous teams.
4. How can I involve all my staff in building the new vision for the organisation?
The Dream stage of Appreciative Inquiry provides a scalable format for involving employees (and other stakeholders) in the visioning process. To avoid the ‘creative block’ problems that often come with starting with a completely blank slate, it is important to undertake the discovery stage first. This will ‘prime’ participants to have more vivid and imaginative ideas for the future, and makes the future vision more credible, since it is grounded in the participants’ solid reference experiences.
When employees have participated in constructing the vision, and in coming up with ideas to make it happen, you don’t have to ‘sell’ the change to them or get their ‘buy-in’, because they already own the desired future.
5. What do I need to know in order to make appreciative interviews work?
Done well, appreciative interviews uncover a wealth of information about what is already working, the values that motivate the interviewee, and move both participants – interviewer and interviewee – into a more positive and resourceful state where they are more able to generate goals for the future and solutions to challenges.
The most important things that an appreciative interviewer has to bear in mind are the type of information they are looking for (engaging stories about best experiences and the factors that made those possible, rather than opinions or detached analysis), and that they should remain fully present and give the interviewee 100 per cent of their attention.
6. What are ‘provocative propositions’?
Provocative propositions are short statements that describe the desired future and help people to stay on track. They often resemble a motto or slogan, perhaps incorporating metaphor, and should be easy to remember.
They should also be vivid and compelling, so that people feel inspired to make them happen. They describe the destination, rather than specifying how to get there. Some clients may find ‘provocative purpose statements’ or ‘possibility statements’ an easier term to understand.
7. My team is persistently underperforming in one area and we have run out of ideas for improvement. There doesn’t appear to be any one cause, and as soon as we fix one problem others seem to appear.
As attempts to diagnose and fix the problems have not brought about a lasting improvement, why not turn things round and look at finding what is already working so you can do more of it? You could run an Appreciative Inquiry process involving the whole team (and other stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, and senior management if appropriate), inquiring into a topic such as ‘How do we improve performance in <problem area>?’
The AI format is designed to avoid blame and restore morale by reminding participants of what they have achieved and what motivates them, putting them in a better frame of mind to work together to create new ideas for solving problems and improving performance.