Using Appreciative Inquiry- The Positive Way To Deal With Difficult Change

How do you get a group working in a high functioning state without going into the common spiral of overdosing on problem diagnosis and failing to get to any agreed resolution?


One way might be to use the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach. This whole system approach came out of the US in the 1980s, becoming an effective organisational tool that focuses on what works and making better rather than what is failing.

AI is a constructive method for understanding what we can take from the existing organisation/working practice that’s good/works well, and how we can build on it with our version of what we are trying to achieve, what the architecture looks like and finally, how we might make it happen? The four stages are:

  1. DISCOVERING: Identifying the organisational processes that work well.
  2. DREAMING: Envisioning processes and practices that would work well in the future.
  3. DESIGNING: Planning and prioritizing those processes in a workable form.
  4. DELIVERING: Implementation of the new proposed design.

By focusing on what works, and by increasing conscious competence, teams and organisations can build real momentum around scalable new ways of working. It also works well for developing best practice norms and standards.

A challenge for AI can be engaging with people who are locked into a remedial, negative approach to problem solving. People who believe there is little or any merit their organisation or team does that can be modelled positively; they simply want to have reductive, whinging conversations. In really serious cases this mental model can have solidified into a cultural norm, sometimes infecting large teams, even whole divisions.

We use a concept we call breakthrough AI – where if we can get a senior team thinking differently, who can view the future positively, who can show (at least) a little leadership can be a breath of fresh air and can quickly start to change the collective mind-set.