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Posts tagged ‘Appreciative Inquiry’

About Endings – Organization Development

I hope that you will forgive a more personal post today, and a diversion of the social psychology series which I have been writing for the last few weeks.  I promise that I will get back on track  next week with the intended post on Minority Influence.

However, today I find that I have been diverted from my normal day as I received a phone call from my mother to tell me of my grandmothers passing.  Endings such as these come with great sadness, my grandmother was a grand lady who in recent years has faded before us suffering from dementia.  It is a cruel disease, made crueller still because of the vibrant lady my grandmother was.


But passing on need not always be a bad thing.  Organization Development means that very often the change that happens results in something ending and endings can be painful.  But just like my grandmother, I can focus on the pain of the ending or I can reflect on the past, remembering the things that my grandmother has added to my life.

When working with teams and individuals in organization development interventions I always focus on the positives. I use focused conversation and appreciative inquiry techniques to help people focus on their strengths which can then be taken forward to make the changes needed within the organization, team or individual performance.  When moving a team forward away from the past it is important not to dismiss or mourn what has been, but rather celebrate all that has been good that we can take forward into the future.

So as we wave goodbye to something that has ended, and like me, replace sadness with a time of reflection on the good that has been, I ask that you consider the following questions before we allow ourselves to lose all that is Good about what has been. Reflect on the past for just a moment. We all have memories of key events in the life of your Organization, Team or our own life.

  1. What are some events and accomplishments in your organization/team/for yourself for the last ten years?
  2. What for you have been high points in the life of your Organization/Team/for yourself?
  3. What do you associate with these high points?
  4. What have been low points?
  5. What do you remember about the low points?
  6. If you were going to divide the last 10 years up into three parts where would you put the divisions?
  7. What title would you put on these three periods?
  8. What have we learned from this 10 year journey?
  9. What does that tell us about who we are now and where we need to go in the future?

Notice the language you use when focusing on the past, what learnings can you utilize from the past as a launch pad for the future. Experience for yourself being part of a larger picture and heal any wounds from the past. Address any ‘sacred cows’ that need to be slaughtered.

As you look at your answers to these questions, What are you struck by?

I believe that our past accomplishments tell us we can have a GREAT future.

OD Theory – Appreciative Inquiry

In addition to the five core OD theories there are other theories that a solid OD practitioners must understand to build on their theoretical foundation for practice.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Appreciative Inquiry in Brief

Appreciative Inquiry rationalises and reinforces the habit of mind that moves through the world in a generative frame, seeking and finding images of the possible rather than scenes of disaster and despair.

Appreciative Inquiry involves a cooperative systematic exploration, discovery and recognition of the best in people and the organisation, affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potential.  It is a theory, a mindset, and an approach to analysis that leads to organisational learning and creativity.

At its heart Appreciative Inquiry strengthens a organisation’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential through the use of positive questioning, imagination and innovation.  It seeks to deliberately engage the whole of the organisational population, and get them to explore and tapping into rich and inspiring accounts of the positive.

The energy created from this exploration gives momentum to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.  By focusing on the organisations strengths, rather than focusing on problems, the resulting output elicits solutions by fully engaging everyone in the organisation.

Key Points

  • Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what the organisation is doing right and provides a frame for creating an imagined future.
  • Seeking and finding the generative rather than the destructive image is powerful.
  • Human behaviour is shaped by “current reality.”
  • There is an impact on human behaviour of “anticipatory reality.”  Research suggests that human beings create the future that we imagine.

Applying Appreciative Inquiry in an OD Intervention

  1. Ensure that the organisation has made a commitment to continuous learning, growth, and generative change.
  2. Help the organisation find its own way and its own path through an inquiry process that seeks the most creative and generative realities.
  3. Help individuals and organisations to realise that we can be limited and constrained by our inability to see larger and more expansive realities that are available.
  4. Provide the environment to help individuals and groups explore beyond what they already know and understand.
  5. Shape dialogue around ‘what is’ rather than ‘what is not.’

Three Essentials of Organisation Development

I was asked the other day what my three essentials of Organisation Development are.  It was a interesting questions which really got me thinking.  What are the three most important things an OD practitioner should practice in any intervention?

You might have an alternative set of essentials but this was the answer I gave.

#1 – People

Any organisation development intervention must have people at its centre.  Organisation Development is about allowing the people in the organisation to create the change the organisation is looking for.  OD is a holistic intervention, and therefore isn’t restricted to the top brass.  In fact, it works quite the opposite in that it releases everyone from the bottom up to have a say, and share their knowledge, talent and skills in developing the organisation.

If your OD intervention isn’t people centred, and unashamedly humanistic it is probably not an OD intervention.

#2 – Know you Tools, Know your Theory

Whether it is Complexity theory, Action Research Theory, Lewin’s Change Theory, Systems Theory or Appreciative inquiry the cross discipline theoretical background of OD is essential to understanding the tools that an OD practitioner will use in their OD practice.  If you don’t understand the behavioural sciences, sociology and psychology behind methods such as gamestorming, focused conversations or world cafe’s you won’t know which tools to use to deliver the results the organisation needs for sustainable performance and organisational effectiveness.

A mechanic doesn’t try to fix your car engine without knowing how the combustion engine works ‘in theory’ – by understanding the process the mechanic can quickly identify where the process is broken and know what tool/method required to make the engine roar back into life.  OD is no different.

Many practitioners dismiss academic theory as ridiculous ‘ivory tower’ thinking and not applicable to the real world.  The interesting thing is that the theory that OD is built on is often criticised by the academic community because it is built on practice and field work experimentation, worse still, in the eyes of academics, it takes bits of different disciplines because those ‘bits’ are relevant and ignores the stuff that doesn’t add value to the process.  Get to know your theory and you’ll get to understand How the OD toolkit works and when to use the different tools.

#3 – Be Sustainable

I could have chosen a number of things for number three, but the one I plugged for is that of legacy.  The OD practitioner is the catalyst in OD interventions.  They must have the ability to build the business case for the leadership team, get the leadership team on board to sponsor the programme, build relationships with key change agents within the business and draw together disperate groups to make the intervention successful.  They become the centre of the intervention.  The use of self as a catalyst of change is a central pillar of OD practice.  BUT.  What happens when the OD intervention comes to an end?  How do you prevent the organisation from slipping back into old habits?

This is the paradox of the life of the OD practitioner.  You are the centre of change whilst at the same time building a legacy which means that the organisation learns how to change itself.  The OD practitioner must translate the practices, and tools that they use so they become embedded into the way that the organisation does things.  The questions you ask, become the organisation’s questions.  The techniques you use, are understood and used by the organisation you are working with and more importantly you leave the organisation in a positon where they have learnt how to develop themselves without the ‘self’ of the OD practitioner being present.

When the OD practitioner is no longer needed then the OD intervention has worked.

So there you have it, my top three essentials for the OD practitioner.