Recently, I had an amazing opportunity to work with a non-government organization (NGO) abroad, whose board asked for help meeting their strategic goals in the next 18 months. Their membership voted six months prior on a handful of milestones that needed to be accomplished, and the board members were nervous. There was an air of uncertainty and doubt about how they would reach the fast-approaching deadlines. I needed a way to help them move into a better state of mind so that they could get their work done.
During the discovery stage of the consulting project, I revisited academic research on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which is founded in the fields of positive psychology and positivism. To summarize the findings, researchers have determined that using positive thoughts and focusing on the upside of a challenge leads to greater chances of actually accomplishing the task at hand, compared to dwelling on negative aspects of the issue. Appreciative Inquiry goes further in providing consultants, facilitators, and business leaders with a framework of using positivism to help clients drive through a challenge.
Focus is kept on what is possible (what could be), rather than on the negative (what is “wrong”). Using AI, the facilitator amplifies for the team that no idea is too far-fetched, too expensive, or too laborious to be considered. With this approach, the conversation shifts from dwelling on what is wrong, to discovering and innovating possible solutions. This shift in conversation also changes the energy in the room for those involved. Facilitating this dialogue requires attention to the messages, ensuring that the focus is on ideas, possibilities, and creativity. When someone says, “we can’t do that; we just don’t have the time,” the facilitator can ask, “what is it that we can do?” or “if we had the time, what could we accomplish?”
What about the NGO mentioned earlier? The energy at the start seemed to be negative: worry, anxiety, nervousness. I needed a way to help them create solutions to their challenge. Appreciative Inquiry provided a way to reframe the conversation from “how will we ever get this done?” to “here are some solutions…” The first step was for the board to shift into a positive state of mind (they recalled their accomplishments so far), and then they moved into a state of innovation, creativity, and solution-mongering. In the end, they had a robust action plan that solved each challenge and would complete the milestones on time.
Interested in more about AI? Check out the book Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change, by David Cooperrider & Diana Whitney.