Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Appreciative enquiry for teams
When teams meet to discuss challenge or to work on their own team development, there is a risk that the language can feel problem focused. We all have experiences of teams stating out loud themes of need such as,
we need to communicate better around difficult topics
we need to be less critical
we need to speak up more
we need to get more ideas from the team
we need to give a voice to all of us
we need to meet less
we need to meet more
Where teams are sometimes great at identifying need, they can regularly struggle to redesign culture and behaviours towards team growth. The past is often the best predictor of the future - teams often rely on what they have tried before to create change. This creates circularities, as we see groups use the same methods to try to create something new. It can be helpful for teams to recognise that what got us to this point, does not always help us to get to a desired new point.
This isn't to say that teams do not have the internal insight and wisdom to achieve change, more that teams often rely on the same methods in trying to access this insight and translate it into change.
This is where appreciative enquiry can help.
In this context, it can be helpful to think of appreciative enquiry as a communication tool that can help teams to dig deep into what works well in the team (even if it is a deeply hidden gem and rarely seen) and then to activate team interest in making this more common for the team. This being an action plan rather than a list of challenges or needs.
Here is an exercise to help a team through this:
Step 1: In pairs, interview each other two questions (5-10 minutes each, rotating roles):
1. What have been the most rewarding/valued experiences in your time within the organisation (or team)?
2. What were the conditions that made the experience possible?
Step 2: In groups of four (joining up 2 pairs) enter into a discussion (20 minutes in total):
Share your insights from Step 1.
Identify 1 to 2 of these experiences your'd like the team to prioritise as something they want more of. (Don't worry, the team can return to this exercise later to address the others).
Answer the question: If those experiences were to become the norm, how would the team have to change?
Step 3: Discuss as a whole team (20-30 minutes)
Which 1-2 experiences do the whole team feel should be magnified as a priority for the team?
What changes would the team need to make?
What actions will each team member commit to, to shift the dial 5% towards making this real for everyone (actually write these down for the whole team and also individuals plan this into their work calendar).
Step 4: Review in the next team development meeting (10 mins)
Discuss as a team what happened when you tried to shift the dial.
Ask what new commitments individuals might need to make to shift the dial.
Repeat and make a common component of team development.
This approach can be incorporated as a smaller approach into team check-ins. Asking the team to notice what has gone well, what they are most proud of - and to expand with a "how did you/we do this" question. Creating a culture of repetitive enquiry into success can change the experience of a meeting space and the direction of future problem solving. We'd still advise a deeper dive with the exercise above at intervals, it is designed to tap the introvert or quieter diversity in the team - check-ins run a risk of giving voice to boastful stories and not the shy stories that may hold the real gems! See our article on check-ins for more detail on their value, if you don't do this already (linked below)
We've seen this work with teams many times over. It is aimed to be fun and positive in focus. Don't be afraid to repeat the whole exercise as often as you need to and consider this an opportunity to play, listen and learn about your team. The team are aiming for better and should see any challenges to this as an opportunity to be creative.