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Appreciative Inquiry and Challenging Coaching

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) has developed significant interest in the world of organisational change and individual development. The AI approach has interesting overlaps with the FACTS model of Challenging Coaching.

Appreciative inquiry was evolved in the 1980s, by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastra, as a reaction to change being seen as just a response to a problem. They noticed that, in an organisational change process, the more ‘problems’ that were found the more discouraged people became. With a mind-set change, there was a move from intervening to fix something and solve problems to learning, discovery and appreciation of organisational strengths. This was a 180-degree change so, instead of detailing the causes of organisational failure, there was an inquiry into the causes of organisational success. Rather than problems to fix there are solutions to be found through focusing on strengths and possibilities.

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There are five core principles of appreciative inquiry:

  • Constructionist: what we believe to be true determines our actions. We construct worlds through the words we use and reality is created through language.
  • Poetic: organisational life is expressed in the stories people tell. The words we use have an impact beyond the words themselves, creating feelings, meaning and understanding. What we focus on grows, so talking about success will create more success.
  • Simultaneity: When we inquire into human systems we change them. Change begins the moment we ask questions and systems move in the direction of the questions.
  • Anticipatory: Image inspires action; we move towards an image of the future. We are forever projecting ahead of ourselves. Our expectation of the future brings it powerfully into the present.
  • Positivity: By focusing on strengths and achievements, momentum is created to ensure sustainable change. Positive feeling such as hope, excitement, inspiration, camaraderie and joy, increase creativity and openness to new ideas.

From this evolved the 4-D Cycle developed by the Global Excellence in Management (GEM) initiative:

  • Discovery: articulate strengths and ‘best of what has been’. This can be from the perspective of the individual, or through considering the wider system by asking stakeholders.
  • Dream: create a clear vision of the future, consider ‘what might be’ once potential is discovered.
  • Design: Plan and prioritise processes that would work well. Creating possible propositions for the new way of being, or a new organisational design that can be used to magnify strengths.
  • Destiny: creating the capability of the individual and system to empower, learn and so sustain and strengthen the cycle of positive change.

Sandy Gordon in a 2008 study compared problem-solving questions with an appreciative inquiry approach:

Problem-Solving Questions Appreciative Inquiry
Tell me what the problem is?What gives you energy?
Tell me what’s wrong.What do you most value about yourself?
What are you worried about?What do you want more of?
What do you need help with?What worked well for you before?
What are you going to do about…?What did you do to contribute?
How are you going to fix this?What does it look like when you…?
What do you think caused this to happen?How do you want to keep moving forward for yourself?

There is a connection to the FACTS model of Challenging Coaching based on Systems Thinking and Courageous Goals. As with Challenging Coaching, appreciative inquiry focuses on systemic change considering the short and long-term as well as stakeholders representing the system. Also, in Challenging Coaching we talk about the three-stage process of courageous goal setting being Dream, Share, and Start. The ‘dream’ stage is as stated in the AI anticipatory principle and the 4-D process. However, this seems to be the most difficult process to engage with. Often a dream is confused with a fantasy that will never come true. But a dream is reality that has not happened yet. Maybe from an early age we are indoctrinated with a problem focus and dreaming is soon left to children?

As T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) said, “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

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