APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY

Organisations as human

Organisations only exist because of people. Organisations are made up of people.  People create organisation. People create organisations. Organisations are a human phenomenon: where people are present, all human life is present. Organisations contain all aspects of human life.

Where there are people there will be confusion, misunderstanding, enlightenment, common cause, conflict and harmony. Where there are people there will be behaviour driven by logic, desire, emotion, imagination, tiredness, righteousness, habit, mischief, good intentions and misjudgement. Human beings are, on the whole, messy.

Organisations, being made up of messy people, are messy.  Organisations are not tidy. They do not run on orderly lines. They can’t, as they are human in nature. This might seem obvious, but it is easily overlooked when the machine metaphor perspective encourages us to regard the people in organisations as either control processes or cogs that will act in a predictable way every time they are “switched on” or “switched off”.

Belief in the power of appreciation

The belief in the power of appreciation to achieve change stands in contrast to the belief in the power of criticism to produce change. Growing behaviour and producing change through appreciation doesn’t involve threat, coercion, humiliation, fear or any of the other negative emotions and behaviours associated with achieving change through criticism.

This tends to mean that the behaviour change produced by appreciation is freely given, rather than a product of reluctant compliance. It is this recognition of the vastly under-utilised power of appreciation that is at the heart of Appreciative Inquiry and the underlying ethos of an appreciative inquiry programme.

In practical terms, this means that one of the first challenges is to identify “What is the behaviour that we want to grow?” and not “What is the behaviour that we want to stop?”

Belief in the power of inquiry to generate conversations about things that matter

Recognition that an organisation, like any living entity, will react to the questions that are asked suggests that the living organisation will respond to the questioning process. With this understanding, we begin to appreciate that the act of asking a question, or inquiring into, an aspect of life is not consequence free.

It leaves neither the people involved nor their understanding of the world unchanged. In general terms, questions direct attention towards particular aspects of life and produce accounts about that area of life. For example, the more inquiry into examples of team working in an organisation, the more accounts of team working are generated. The greater the number of examples of team working generated, the more of it we can see.

This realisation leads to two important points from a living system metaphor point of view. First, there is recognition that to inquire is not a precursor to doing something – it is doing something. And second, since we are likely to produce more of what we ask about, we should take care selecting that into which we choose to inquire as it will change our perception, experience and our leadership impact.

Appreciative Inquiry: the central thinking

Appreciative Inquiry is a portfolio of bespoke development interventions for leaders at all levels.

This portfolio of interventions has the purpose of:

  • Challenging the prescribed wisdom of the machine metaphor to describe organisations and how they function
  • Exploring organisations as complex human systems
  • Deconstructing the idea that problem-solving from a deficit base is the only way to move forward
  • Exploring the power of appreciative inquiry to generate conversations about things that matter
  • Discrediting the power of instruction to achieve change
  • Exploring the power of conversation to change things
  • Recognising that people are emotional and therefore, organisations are emotional entities
  • Harnessing deeper purpose to do good, motivate and inspire

It is not rocket science. Just the simple action of demonstrating that you care improves just about everything. Abraham Maslow was talking about belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation over 50 years ago and we are still just a bunch of humans looking for human contact, belief and possibility.

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