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Written by Natacha Wilson

4 benefits of appreciative inquiry to drive change

What is appreciative inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry is a collaborative approach to organisational change that focuses on identifying and building on an organisation’s strengths. It seeks to shift the focus away from problems, towards strengths, opportunities, and potential. I have worked with this successful methodology in a variety of contexts, including organisational development, team development, and at Board level. It is an approach that brings incredible value.

Appreciative inquiry is based on the belief that every organisation or team, has something that works well, and by focusing on these strengths, an organisation can build on them to create a better future. Appreciative Inquiry is commonly called an “asset-based” or “strengths-based”approach to systems change because it emphasises positive idea generation over negative problem identification which, in contrast, is often framed as a “deficit-based” approach. The assed-based approach is an important aspect of the methodology which encourages everyone to focus on what works well and what could be improved in view of a set goal.

The other critical element is that appreciative inquiry is grounded in the social constructionist theory, which suggests that reality is created through our interactions with others and our environment. This is music to my ears and hopefully resonates with you too, as it seeks to create a positive reality by focusing on positive interactions and experiences between members of a group – large or small. This is also a powerful element that helps everyone work together towards a common purpose, by encouraging communication and collaboration amongst group members.

What I liked about this is that it puts people at the heart of the change process, providing the opportunity to sense, identify and voice what needs to happen from a human perspective.

Key principles to remember

I have added bellow a summary of the 4 key principles underpinning appreciative inquiry:

  • It is based on the belief that every organisation/team has something that works well and can be built upon.
  • It is grounded in the belief that positivity and optimism are powerful drivers of change.
  • It emphasises the importance of collaboration and participation in the change process.
  • It recognises that change is a continuous process that requires ongoing attention and effort.

What are the benefits of appreciative inquiry?

 1- Transformational Change

By focusing on the strengths, opportunities, and potential of an organisation or team, appreciative inquiry can help to identify areas for improvement and growth. This can lead to significant changes in the way that an organisation or team operates, including changes to its culture, processes, and systems, which in turn, adds incredible value through increased efficiency, impact, and wellbeing. Taking the example of a recent project I worked on with a wonderful colleague, Caroline Broad, we helped a large, international team of researchers create a culture of wellbeing through appreciative inquiry. Field work conditions and pressures due to tight deadlines can impact motivation and impact negatively. Instead of focusing what was not working, we worked with the team and identified ways to enhance existing practices that were working well, whilst also visualising a future where wellbeing practices become the norm. This was an amazingly positive experience for all involved and provided some initial practical steps for individuals and team leaders which could be easily implemented, as well as more strategic initiatives that could be embedded in the strategy and project plan.

2 – Enhancing Employee Engagement

As a positive and strengths-based approach, appreciative inquiry aims to inspire and motivate employees to create a better future for the organisation and its diverse teams. My previous example illustrates that well, as it helped transform/adapt the culture of the team by creating a vision for change towards a more positive and productive work environment. By focusing on what is working well, it encourages employees to engage with their work and their colleagues. This can lead to increased job satisfaction, improved productivity/focus, and retention of team members.

3 – Knowledge Co-Creation

Appreciative inquiry can also lead to knowledge co-creation and valuable insights. By engaging with staff and other groups, you can develop a deeper understanding of strengths, opportunities and identify new solutions which can lead to new collaboration, partnerships, networks or tailored new products and services.

4 – Fostering a Culture of Innovation

Appreciative inquiry can help organisations to foster a culture of innovation by encouraging employees to think creatively and to share their ideas with others. By focusing on what is possible, rather than what is not, it creates a positive mindset that can lead to breakthrough thinking and new ideas. It also places innovation at the heart of the team and the organisation rather than on a specialised team. Each member has the potential to identify and suggest ways to improve systems, processes, and impact.

Interested? What’s next for you?

In summary, conducting an appreciative inquiry can have a significant impact on your organisation by promoting transformational change, organisational development, and knowledge co-creation. By focusing on the positive aspects of an organisation, it can help to identify areas for improvement and growth, which can lead to improved performance/impact and innovation.

If you are new to appreciative inquiry, I would suggest that you work with an experience facilitator, such as myself, who can guide you through the process and ensure that the project is a success. Appreciative inquiry is likely to be more time consuming than a traditional “problem solving approach’, however it yields deeper and longer lasting benefits and value for the organisation and the team members involved.

For additional information, check this great website and resources from one of the founders of appreciative inquiry methodology, David Cooperrrider. https://www.davidcooperrider.com/ai-process/

If you like this article and want to find out more about my work, please reach out and book an introductory Zoom call. 

 

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About Natacha Wilson

Natacha Wilson, founder of Cambridge Insights, is a learning and development consultant and coach. She creates tailored development programmes, which combine 21st century skills, mindsets, and wisdom, to boost leadership capabilities and nurture innovative cultures. Her mission is to support transformational leaders and  “leaders in the making” increase their postive impact, solve global challenges and create a greater world.

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