What is Appreciative Inquiry and why do leaders need to know about it?

In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision. –Dalai Lama
Appreciative Inquiry

Similar to Positive Psychology—a concept we introduced last month—Appreciative Inquiry (AI) focuses on approaching problem-solving from a positive angle; focusing on what’s working instead of what  isn’t. In this post, we’ll look at what appreciative inquiry is, how it works and how leaders can use it to improve performance, relationships and overall job enjoyment.

What is Appreciative Inquiry?

The origins of appreciative inquiry go back to a 1987 paper, “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life”, where the authors—David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva—suggest an alternative to management’s problem-solving approaches. Typically, problem-solving focuses on what is wrong and how to fix it, whereas AI starts by looking at what is working well and expands to the possibilities available to doing something greater in the future. To further understand AI, you only need to look at the terms’ definition simply:

Ap-pre’ci-ate, v., 1. valuing; the act of recognising the best in people or the world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence) to living systems 2. to increase in value, e.g. the economy has appreciated in value. Synonyms: VALUING, ESTEEMING, and HONOURING.

In-quire’ (kwir), v., 1. the act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms: DISCOVERY, SEARCH, and SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION, STUDY.


Why is it important?

Appreciative Inquiry focuses its approach in discovering the best in people and organisations, giving way to imagination and innovation; instead of negativity and criticism. Its methodology has the perspective that every system, human and otherwise, has something that works right already—things that contribute to its effectiveness and success. Inviting people to be part of a change they themselves can support produces cultures of ownership and commitment. The principles and process of Appreciative Inquiry facilitate change and is sustainable because the change comes from the stakeholders themselves and it builds on several assumptions, including:

  1. In every society, organisation, or group, something works.
  2. What we focus on, becomes our reality.
  3. The act of asking questions of an organisation or group influences the group in some way.
  4. What we want already exists in ourselves, our firms, our organisations, and our communities.

How it works.

There are a number of guiding principles factored into the process where a specific topic is chosen, positive questions are developed, and a facilitator asks the questions to discover stories and patterns that allow individuals to tap into positive achievements and stories that strengthen and inspire. The process doesn’t ignore problems—it just approaches them from a positive angle. The process can be executed informally, such as in a conversation or in a formal context, such as at a strategic planning conference or retreat, with as many people as it is relevant for the organisation.

The truth is, AI is a complex but very effective process that requires a professional that understands the principles and can help facilitate the process. If you’d like to learn more about Appreciative Inquiry and how it can help your organisation, contact us.

Have you used AI methodology in your organisation? What changes did you notice in the organisation’s culture? Contribute to the conversation below, we’d love to hear from you!

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