We recently  conducted a three-hour workshop at a client’s staff retreat using Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a process developed by David Cooperrider in the 80s at Case Western Reserve.  This process invites individuals and groups to inquire about the positive, best practices in their organization or system. AI compels group members to appreciate the wholeness of an organization and coaxes them away from problem solving. No problem solving?

Understand that wherever we place our energies, our actions follow. So, if we focus on problem solving, then we will most likely find more problems or amplify what’s broken. Why solely focus on what’s broken when clearly in every system something works? AI helps us ask the critical affirming questions that by answering leverages the stellar aspects of ourselves and our system to create change we seek.

Quick review of the process

We used AI to help a newly formed department identify a set of working agreements. The department members interviewed each other about  a few things related to teamwork like a time when they were proud to be part of a team, what they valued about being part of the new team, and a time when they saw the work they’d done transform a member or client.

A couple of folks felt a little weird talking about themselves at length. However, both the interviewer and interviewee gained a deeper understanding of their collective work and humanity.

We gathered the learning from the interviews in group reflection. Each learning was captured on flip charts. The team used the learning to develop positive, affirmative statements (in the present tense) about the way in which the team will work together. This part of the process started the development of the team’s working agreements.

Example of summary from the AI interviews the team conducted with each other

E.g., Group Learning from the AI Interviews

What made the process work was acknowledging and tapping into the power of conversation. As we collectively developed the agreements, the team members had to get clear about what they were agreeing to do. We used consensus to confirm each agreement. We settled on developing six. The workshop participants ended the session feeling refreshed and better connected to their teammates.

After the workshop, the department members immediately used the statements to rework their vision and mission. As a side note, another appropriate next step for this team is to turn their agreements into measurable practices. How do they know their set of agreements have helped them be successful in addressing their members’ needs?

Example of developing the working agreements

E.g., Developing the Working Agreements

Learn more about AI

To learn more about the theory of Appreciative Inquiry click here. Thumb through parts of the thin companion guide by Sue Annis Hammond. The guide helps you practically frame the AI conversations.

How you can benefit from AI

How might  your organization might benefit from Appreciative Inquiry? If you’ve used the process, share your tips and experiences. Drop us a line in the comment section below.