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Appreciate Inquiry with Teams

By Edward D. Goodman, Ph.D.
Life Coach [See Profile on the "Coaches" tab on this web site.]

Are you leading a team of talented individuals who need to channel their energies more productively? Do you lead a diverse group of people who - if they only knew how - could leverage their collective talents to achieve great things? These are often the challenges associated with building great teams.

So here's another challenge. As a leader, do you think you can focus on what's going right with your team instead of how big the gap is between where they are and where you would like them to be? It's not a new idea - management authors and consultants have been advising managers to "catch people doing something right" for years. They know that it can be fun to focus on what's good about employee performance, and that when you do, you eventually get more of the behaviors you want and less of those you don't want!

Can this same concept be applied effectively with teams? I believe it can be. There is a fairly recent concept in the world of organizational development called Appreciative Inquiry. This philosophy is based on the premise that organizations change in the direction in which they "inquire". So an organization that spends all its energy focusing on problems will keep finding problems but an organization that tries to appreciate what is best in itself will discover more and more that is good. These discoveries can help them build a new future where the best becomes more commonplace.

If you apply this concept to building your team, it suggests that you ask people to describe their "best team" experience:

As the stories unfold, you can begin to put together a vision for your team eventually becoming a "best team" experience. This envisioned future is grounded in the realities of peoples' experiences, so people know how to repeat their success.

After the experiences have been described, you can ask several questions that will appreciate the best of what is happening right now with your team:

From that point, it's not a leap to pick one or two behaviors for people to focus on (for example, being more willing to listen intently to one another when people disagree) that will move the team toward the ideal. If necessary, create and deliver the training (i.e. in listening skills or conflict resolution) that will enable team members to do what you are asking of them.

Building a team is a process, but it can certainly be more enjoyable if you incorporate the art of looking for what works instead of what doesn't work. So go forth and appreciate!

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