In the workplace, it can be far too easy to focus on what’s going wrong or not working when trying to make changes. The main problem with this approach is that if our focus and attention are directed towards problem talk it means that it’s not being primarily oriented towards a solution. It is, of course, important to have clarity around what isn’t working, any barriers, downfalls or complications that have arisen but a solely deficit focus is highly limiting. Appreciative Inquiry – originally developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva – often referred to as a way of being and seeing – offers a way to facilitate positive, solution-focused thinking and change which is particularly helpful with teams and in the workplace in general.
According to the principles of Appreciative Inquiry teams and organizations will grow in whatever direction they focus their attention. So when we’re thinking about making changes, focusing our attention on the possibilities and solutions rather than what has gone wrong offers an opportunity for positive growth. If you’re able to identify solutions, strengths, the best of what there is and ways to improve upon it your teams are far more likely to find optimal ways forward instead of getting stuck in a cycle of problem talk. It is also founded on the belief that teams and organizations have great resources that are there to be discovered. It takes a what’s right approach that focuses on identifying and building strengths, resources and solutions rather than a what’s wrong approach which focuses on deficiency. When we focus on deficiency we are more likely to limit motivation, innovation and growth which are actually highly beneficial when we want to make effective changes and development within our teams and organizations.
There is a process of Appreciative Inquiry that you can follow in order to develop strategy, find the best solutions, ideas and ways forward within your team or organization. Within this model you should strive to be continually asking positive questions – these are especially important within the first two stages. The process is categorized by 4 D’s:
Discover – This first stage is about identifying and appreciating the resources, strengths and anything else that is working well. Try to discover the best of your team, project, organization (or whatever else you’re using this process to focus on) and identify what makes it that way. This step alone can have a big impact as it can really foster a lot of good feeling, increase energy and positive emotion.
Dream – The next stage is about exploring and imagining what could be. Treat it like a big brainstorm and allow ideas to flow freely. Hold back on judgment or opinions and at this point focus on envisioning what the future could look like. In this stage, you’re not only aiming for realistic and feasible ideas but outrageous and impossible ones too. Dream big and bold, allow and encourage crazy ideas. This part of the process is about identifying what could be. The more you do this the easier it will get, initially, you might find that getting away from the realistic can be quite difficult. You can then go on to reduce the ideas and options until you find your way forward.
Design – During this stage, you move on to thinking about what should be and it’s here that you get to realize your vision and the way forward. You can begin to construct strategies and put plans in place. This stage can also be done in collaboration with other team members.
Deliver – Delivery is the final stage and within this stage, your focus should be ok asking what will make your plan deliverable and sustainable. It is the culmination of the previous steps – you have discovered, brainstormed and designed a way forward now it is about delivering on that.