Change is hard!
Whether you’re working with a small team or a large enterprise, it’s difficult to get people aligned and agreeing on what to do and how to do it; and when focus starts to dissipate and motivation wanes, sustainability can be darn near impossible. That’s why having something as powerful as Appreciative Inquiry – or A.I. – is a must in every coach’s tool kit. (Note that there’s nothing artificial or automated about this A.I.)
Here at the coffeehouse, we serve up espresso-sized introductions to some of the tools and techniques that we use when working with clients through transformations. Our goal is to help restore some degree of sanity back to the crazy world of work.
On today’s menu is Appreciative Inquiry: a process for facilitating positive change. I love working with Appreciative Inquiry because it harnesses the power of positivity to help keep people together, aligned, and motivated. Much has been written about Appreciative Inquiry, so I’m just going to hit the highlights, primarily taking the information from the website of David Cooperrider, the primary architect of Appreciative Inquiry. There are also many great resources on the website for the Center for Appreciative Inquiry to which David Cooperrider also contributes.
What is Appreciative Inquiry?
As the name implies Appreciative Inquiry (or A.I.) relies on asking questions about specifically what’s good. It’s a strengths-based approach which purposefully cycles around a positive core rather than seeking to overcome or minimize any weaknesses. A.I. focuses on leveraging the core strengths of the team or the organization.
The first step in appreciative inquiry is identifying the affirmative topic of choice. For example, you could ask “what is the life-giving story of our organization?” when working with a large group. You can also scale this question down when working with a smaller team, perhaps at a retrospective. For example, you could ask “what’s already good and right about our team and processes?” The important part is that you’re identifying some kernel of positivity.
Now that we have the positive core in place, we can move on to the 4-D cycle of Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny.
The Appreciative Inquiry 4D Cycle:
- Focus: Identify and explore the strengths, successes, and positive aspects within the team or organization.
- Approach: Conduct interviews, surveys, or discussions to discover what is working well. Gather stories and examples that highlight positive experiences.
- Focus: Envision and articulate a positive future based on the strengths and successes identified in the Discovery phase.
- Approach: Facilitate creative and aspirational discussions to help the team imagine what the future could look like if they build on their strengths. Encourage members to share their dreams and aspirations.
- Focus: Develop concrete plans and strategies to achieve the positive vision created in the Dream phase.
- Approach: Collaboratively design and plan the actions, processes, and changes needed to realize the positive future. Consider the practical steps, structures, and behaviors required for implementation.
- Focus: Implement and sustain the designed initiatives, continuously learning and adapting.
- Approach: Execute the plans developed in the Design phase. Monitor progress, gather feedback, and make adjustments as necessary. Celebrate successes and embed positive changes into the team or organizational culture.
The Discovery phase is about identifying and appreciating the best of what is. As opposed to asking “what’s wrong?” or “how can we fix it?”, our questions are positive-focused, such as:
- When are we working at our best?
- What characteristics are present?
A.I. doesn’t focus on what we want less of, but instead it echoes the mantra of our friend Woody Zuill who implores us to always “turn up the good”. In doing this we build appreciation as we understand what gives life.
The second D is for Dream, where you collectively unleash your creativity to imagine what the positive core might be. This phase envisions what could be while it inspires expression through visuals as well as words. Try to seek out metaphors and tell stories that picture your squad taking what’s already good and turning it up to 11. These images of the future emerge out from grounded examples of its own positive past.
The Dream phase gave us a strategic focus, and now is the time to bring this powerful purpose more clarity with the third D: Design. This is the stage where teams come together to co-construct the future by asking themselves what should be the ideal? Here is where the positive core begins to take form as decisions get made on how to bring it to life.
Are you ready to meet your Destiny? Okay, maybe not yours; but for our group this fourth phase not only brings to a conclusion the 4-D cycle, but it also represents the beginning of this opportunity to create an ongoing A.I. culture in the organization. Teams show off plans that will be sustained by a collective sense of purpose, and the group begins committing to learning, improvising, and adapting – all in service to the common goal. The magnetism of the shared positive image invites all participants to align their interactions in co-creating this vision of the future.
While there are many processes and tools related to change management of organizations or teams, I appreciate Appreciative Inquiry because it heightens energy, sharpens vision, and inspires action for change.
How to Use:
Using Appreciative Inquiry 4D Cycle in Agile Coaching:
- Incorporate the Discovery phase in retrospectives by focusing on what went well in a given iteration. Encourage team members to share positive experiences and strengths.
- Visioning Workshops:
- Facilitate Dream sessions to help the team collectively envision a positive future for their Agile journey. Explore questions like “What would a successful Agile transformation look like for us?”
- Agile Planning Sessions:
- Apply the Design phase during Agile planning sessions. Collaboratively design sprint goals, processes, and strategies that leverage the team’s strengths.
- Continuous Improvement:
- Integrate the Destiny phase into the team’s daily activities. Regularly review progress, gather feedback, and adjust plans as needed. Emphasize a culture of continuous improvement.
If you want to learn more about Appreciative Inquiry, check out the resources at those two websites listed at the top of the page, and be sure to watch our video series of coffeehouse retros including topics such as the Prime Directive and Double Loop Learning.
Resources on Appreciative Inquiry 4D Cycle:
- “Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change” by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney:
- The book provides a comprehensive overview of Appreciative Inquiry, including the 4D Cycle. It offers practical guidance and case studies.
- Academic Journals and Articles:
- Explore academic journals and articles on Appreciative Inquiry, as they often provide in-depth analyses and real-world applications of the 4D Cycle.
- Appreciative Inquiry Conferences and Workshops:
- Attend conferences and workshops focused on Appreciative Inquiry. These events often feature presentations and discussions about the 4D Cycle and its application in various contexts.
- AI Practitioner Networks:
- Connect with Appreciative Inquiry practitioner networks. These networks may offer resources, forums, and opportunities for learning from experienced AI practitioners.
- Online Learning Platforms:
- Explore online learning platforms that offer courses on Appreciative Inquiry. Some platforms provide modules specifically focused on the 4D Cycle and its use in organizational development.
By integrating the Appreciative Inquiry 4D Cycle into Agile coaching practices, coaches can help teams leverage their strengths, foster a positive team culture, and drive continuous improvement based on positive experiences and aspirations.
Until next time, I’m your barista Vic Bonacci reminding you to enjoy your coffee with friends.
btw – if you enjoyed this page, try subscribing to our coffeehouse videos. We love making them!
Visit the Agile Coach’s Toolkit for more definitions, models, theorems and stuff.