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Posts tagged ‘Appreciative Inquiry’

Resources for Positive Organization Development

Long-time readers and associates know of my interest in positive organization development. What follows is a short list of organization development resources for those readers who are interested in looking at some of the research supporting positive organization development.

First, a quote from Daniel Goleman, “As new ways of scientifically measuring human development start to bear out these theories and link them directly with performance, the so-called soft side of business begins to look not so soft after all.”

Bad is Stronger than Good
Research from Case Western University and the Free University of Amsterdam says, “Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.”  The implications are for experiences, interactions, and events at home and work. It takes 5 good interactions over a period of time to overcome 1 bad interaction or experience. The authors discuss extensive research in the positive-negative asymmetry effect. Food for thought: What impact would be felt if people in workplaces and families did their best to eliminate the negative patterns.

Appreciative Inquiry is Not (Just) About the Positive
Research from Simon Fraser University says, “Many people seem to get blinded by the ‘positive stuff’. After years of focusing on problems and deficits and dysfunction they get entranced with “focusing on the positive” and equate this with AI, but I don’t think that is the core of appreciative inquiry. Instead, the core of AI is generativity (Cooperrider & Srivastva,1987).” The implications here are for leaders and consultants who facilitate change in organizations. (Read more G.R. Bushe research here.)

Positive Deviance, and Performance
Research from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan says that the greater the levels of perceived trust and compassion, “the greater the amount of innovation, quality, and customer retention, and the lower the amount of employee turnover.” The Discussion section, which begins on page 33, has a summary of the work being done in Positive Organization Scholarship. The questions here are for those who have the greatest potential to impact an organization’s culture, creating an environment where people and the bottom line thrive. (Read more from UM here.)

Open Hearts Build Open Lives
Research from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan says, “People’s daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources.” How can organizations intentionally work to build positive cultures that support the well-being of the organization and the people who create it? (Read more from UNC here.)

Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership
Research from Harvard University in summary says, “As we explore the discoveries of neuroscience, we are struck by how closely the best psychological theories of development map to the newly charted hardwiring of the brain. … [it is important to provide] a secure base from which people can strive toward goals, take risks without unwarranted fear, and freely explore new possibilities.” All of this is linked directly to improved performance by both personnel and the bottom line.” A good overview of social intelligence and how awareness impacts organizations. (Read more research from the EI Consortium here.)

Generative and Positive

I’ve been hearing people saying that organization development and processes that focus on the positive – on building on what works well – are just a fad. While I don’t believe, think, or feel that this is a fad, I do encounter consultants and managers running “appreciative inquiry” events that are just plain boring or even completely wrong for the organization. In these scenarios, everyone behaves (or wants to behave) like the person in the recent commercial who is calling the airline to get an early flight out to escape the meeting – or perhaps they feel energized and good – but no lasting transformation occurs. What are the key components that distinguish a generative, transformative process from just another fun meeting?

It begins with good planning. If you’re bringing  in an outside advisor or consultant, they need to be a skilled facilitator and someone who has the ability to facilitate a generative process. Then, instead of starting by telling everyone where you want to end up and how to get there, leaders should look for where innovation and creativity are already happening in your organization. Recognize it and get everyone involved in building an agreement about what needs will be met and what you are trying to accomplish.

Be committed to acting. Once the agreement is established, leaders step aside and affirm their permission to act. Ask everyone to create a commitment to act. This can be done by identifying one initial step that will lead forward. Leaders can then continue to bring the focus to what they want more of and fan the fire through focus, recognition, encouragement, and resources. Leaders create accountability and motivation by enabling people to grow and change, allowing autonomy while overseeing the process, and by creating meaning.

None of this alone will allow the process to be generative and transformative. The best predictor of success is the quality of leadership. Trust and transparency, legitimacy and commitment, communication and passion from leaders all increase the potential for success. Engaging people in the organization who are not directly involved, managing the informal networks as well as the formal structure all increase the potential for success.

Creating agreement about what can be accomplished together, building a commitment to action, giving structure to the process, and generating positive energy can mobilize action to meet the needs and reach the goals. Perhaps we’ll discover the courage to end management as we know it.

creative confidence

It’s a cool, rainy Saturday on the Great Plains, which provides time for reflection. I’ve been considering a question asked in an encounter this week, “How do I know which method or process to use with an organization that is having a hard time finding its way?” My first response was that there isn’t a tidy checklist or rule book for people who work with organizations. Organizations are made up of people, and those relationships rarely go by a checklist or rule book.

How then should an organization development practitioner proceed? There are many different processes that I’ve used successfully from Appreciative Inquiry to World Cafe to Strategic Visioning. I’ve facilitated with organizations that were willing to begin with a central question and allow the process to emerge, evolve, and engage the group through our time together. Ultimately the practitioner has to have what David Kelley calls “creative confidence“. I have to be willing to step out into uncertainty, ambiguity, and fog and enter into the organization’s journey.

This isn’t magical. A good practitioner brings along their toolbox. A couple of months ago I discovered a new toolbox from the at Stanford: Bootcamp Bootleg. In it the students and faculty from the Stanford share their mindset along with modes and methods that they use to engage organizations and people when the solutions, and sometimes even the questions, aren’t obvious. They set an example of resilience, of not being willing to give up with the way ahead is uncertain, ambiguous, or wrapped in fog.

To respond to the original question: my personal goals as an organization development practitioner are to sharpen my tools while continually adding to my toolbox – to be willing to start a conversation for change, be willing to fail, be willing to try again – to welcome the unknown along with the known – to practice with creative confidence.

Getting more of what we want


 At our house, against all efforts to re-focus on giving rather than receiving, I still hear the line, “I want _______ (you fill in the blank).” In organizations, this often comes out as people say, “If only _______ (you fill in the blank).”

But is that who we want to be? Is that who I want to be? … someone who asks others to meet my wants? … someone who lives in a world of “if only”?

My Dad has always said, “If you want to meet the right people, you must first be the right person.”  Or we might turn to Peter Drucker, “The successful person places more attention on doing the right thing rather than doing things right.”

As I anticipate the gifts of the holiday season, tangible and intangible, given and received, I seek to be the right person, to want what I have, and to engage in the present moment with hope and anticipation. When I’m focusing in the right direction, my dreams and possibilities have a chance of becoming reality.

Quiet desperation

Whatever your faith tradition, the U.S. culture this time of year is filled with celebrations and parties. The year is winding down while colorful lights push back the winter darkness. We are waiting, waiting for the shortest day of the year to be past, waiting for a new year with its possibilities.

Winter Lights

Yet, in this season of waiting and hoping for new possibilities, I still hear voices of resignation. People voice resignation to events around us that are out of our control, in our organizations, families, and the world. In Walden, Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

And yet, we get to choose. A colleague reminded me that only 10% of our organization life comes to us through formal channels. The rest comes through informal interaction. In those information interactions, we get to take responsibility for ourselves, our behavior, our relationships, our development, our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

I ask myself and challenge you to do the same, “What am I doing to develop my capacity to be authentic and present? Am I willing to interrupt my routine to reflect and then be proactive in my life? Am I willing to take responsibility for my actions, thoughts, and physical environment?”

As individuals, we can choose to contribute – appreciate – give freely, or we can choose to hoard – criticize – take. We can act to begin ending the cycle of resignation and desperation. We can act to take a walk, read an article or book, and offer a word of encouragement to those around us. We can be the light that helps to push back the darkness. We can be the change we wish to see in the world.

Being the change I wish to see . . .

“You must be the change you want to see in the world,” is a familiar quote from Mahatma Gandhi in organization change circles. Recently I’ve talked with several people about how organizational change happens. The consensus is that change begins with the individual.

If we want more trust in our organization, each of us must be more trusting. If we want more support for collaboration and communication, each of us must be willing to suspend our own opinions and our wish to be “right” while seeking to find workable solutions for all. If we want less conflict and tension, each of us must be willing to be calm and at peace with ourselves while genuinely caring for others. When I am open to transformation and actively work to change myself, I can become part of a chain of connections that opens a door for transformation and change that can benefit everyone.

Being open to change in myself is a life-long process. This process includes self-awareness and self-reflection, being willing to take responsibility for my own development. It asks me to make conscious choices, even in the midst of chaos. It asks me to practice being present with empathy, kindness, and compassion wherever I find myself. It asks me to make conscious choices about what to do and what to stop doing.

May each of us make a choice to be the change we all long for and wish to see. May we come to understand that how we treat ourselves, each other, and the world creates our experience. May we live into the answers for our questions. May our organizations be changed, one individual at a time.


I’m writing about abundance as one of the core principles of Friesen Group: there is enough for everyone. Enough what? There are enough ideas, creativity, innovation, and potential for everyone to grow and succeed. It is why we brainstorm and dream with friends, co-workers, and clients – in offices, classrooms, favorite restaurants, and on the back porch.

I experience this when my friends in the Appreciative Inquiry community freely post and share everything from their newest ideas to templates for group experiences. I experience it when I use open source software, watch videos on YouTube, or listen to a podcast. I experience it when I teach and instead of a one-way exchange, encounter a learning environment where everyone contributes.

I first learned this lesson when as a toddler I was taught to share my toys. I learned that I was not an island and not the most important person. I learned that sharing was a way to have fun! Openness and sharing inspire connections and build relationships.

And so, away with the scarcity principle, the need to control, and the fear that someone else will get ahead of us. Thank you to all of my friends and co-workers who freely share their ideas – big and small. We are – and can be – more together than we are separately.

Grounding Conversations

This past weekend brought thought stimulating conversations with a trusted friend. Often we work under the assumption that all of our conversations deliver the needed results. Yet, this is often not the case. We participate in formal meetings, water cooler meetings, and even more casual discussions on the back porch.

In reflecting on what made these conversations work at the most basic level, I was drawn to think about ground rules for conversations. Ground rules are often assumed, but here is a short list that I have been compiling for times when ground rules need to be specified:

• Be Present:
  welcoming yourself first,
  willing to sit in the peace or chaos around you,
  keeping the space open and flexible,
  being open to surprises.

• Participate:
  be willing to listen fully, with pauses for reflection,
  with respect for each person’s voice,
  without fixing, judgment, and advice giving.

• Be courageous:
  inviting and willing to initiate conversations that matter,
  speaking from your own experience,
  finding and using powerful questions
  documenting the answers, patterns, insights, wisdom, action items.

• Be willing to co-create with and include others:
  blending your knowing, experience and practices with theirs,
  developing a working partnership.

With credit to the World Cafe, Open Space Technology, and Appreciative Inquiry communities.

A Restructuring Puzzle

Prompted by a question from a reader about the uses of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), I’ve spent some time today pondering the idea of restructuring organizations. Restructuring generally refers to a reconfiguring of the organizational chart by either eliminating or adding people, processes, departments, or organizational divisions.  Restructuring is often driven by a perceived need to turnaround the organization, to bring it back from the edge of disaster or oblivion.

In some cases, restructuring can be helpful, a pruning process that allows the organization to eliminate inefficiencies of outdated processes, re-shape the culture, and regain momentum. In other cases, restructuring is a reaction based on fear or panic, an attempt to recover from an economic blow or damage to the core purpose or business. Some organizations go through multiple restructuring plans, grasping at possible ways out of their dilemmas, destroying forward momentum with every cycle.

The question on the table is whether or not AI can be used in restructuring? My reflection as of this moment is, “Yes.”   A successful restructuring requires that organizations have a mechanism to create and re-gain momentum. It requires that leaders provide hope in the midst of change as well as create and sustain a culture of disciplined people with disciplined thoughts and disciplined actions. These actions are strategically directed at building on the core values and delivering results. AI can provide this as it focuses on remembering why an organization and its people exist, generates a vision of shared values and opportunities, and creates actionable change.

I suspect that many people believe that while AI can be generative, they still think it is the leader’s responsibility to decide how to restructure, reconfigure, or redraw the organization. And so the results of the AI process become one more piece of the restructuring puzzle for the leader rather than acting as the restructuring mechanism. The challenge for AI practitioners is to be able to describe the possibility of using AI as the method for putting the puzzle together, not just as a puzzle piece. My friends at Innovation Partners came up with the following description of AI for finding a path forward:

  1. What you seek, you find more of.  The more positive and inspiring the strategy development process, the more likely innovative ideas will emerge and shape your future direction.
  2. People commit to what they help to create. The more participative the plan creation, the more committed people are to implementation success.
  3. Prototype and empower. Enabling participants to identify, design, and try-out new ideas in real time – brings life, energy, and ownership to your strategy.
  4. Nurture a living strategy. Sustainability is ensured by a “less is more” approach – simplicity and strategic focus – thus balancing the need for planning with the desire for inspired implementation.

Yes, AI can be a cornerstone of organizational restructuring. AI balances the ability to build collaborative relationships with the need for flexibile and adaptable strategy. AI allows the organizaiton to stand firmly on its core values and cycle in a disciplined manner through the process of Discovery-Dream-Design-Deliver . . . over-and-over-and-over. As organizations go through repeated iterations of the cycle, they will discover new strengths, let go of the old strengths and processes that no longer serve them, build on what is working in the here and now, develop and test new ideas, and focus on ongoing renewal.

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