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How to Use the Appreciative Inquiry Model to Solve Problems

Read Time: 9 mins

Business environments can be unpredictable. This means traditional strategies often don’t work anymore. The Appreciative Inquiry Model scraps the traditional approach.

Business environments can be unpredictable. This means that traditional methods don't work.Business environments can be unpredictable. This means that traditional methods don't work.Business environments can be unpredictable. This means that traditional methods don't work.
Business environments can be unpredictable. This means that traditional methods don't work. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Traditionally business strategies focus on threats or what doesn’t for the work environment or company. The Appreciative Inquiry Model takes a completely different approach. It takes a positive approach to a company or team development or learning.

Keep reading to find out more about the appreciative inquiry process and how it works. This article also covers the concepts and theories behind the model.

What Is Appreciative Inquiry Model?

Appreciative Inquiry Model is an organizational change model. According to positivepsychology.com,

“Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a collaborative, strengths-based approach to change in organizations and other human systems.”

The theory originated with David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva at Case Western Reserve University, 

Components of the Appreciative Inquiry Model

There are four main phases that the appreciative inquiry process goes throughThere are four main phases that the appreciative inquiry process goes throughThere are four main phases that the appreciative inquiry process goes through
There are four main phases that the appreciative inquiry process goes through. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

There were originally four main phases that the appreciative inquiry process goes through. Here are the phases with a brief explanation of each:

  1. Discovery. This is where people who take part in the model research the company’s strengths and best practices.
  2. Dream. This is where people who participate look at and dream of a future they really want. This future is where the company is completely engaged in successful practices around the company’s core purpose and strategies.
  3. Design. In the design component, the participants use the best of what their visions are for the future to design high-impact strategies that'll improve the company creatively and decisively in a positive direction.
  4. Destiny. This stage can also be called Deploy. In this section of the model, the people who take part in the model put their strategies to work and improve them when necessary.

Concepts That Form the Foundation of the Appreciative Inquiry Model

There's a frame that the appreciative inquiry model has. Here are the three concepts from this frame and an explanation of each concept:

1. Appreciation

AppreciationAppreciationAppreciation
Appreciation (Image source: Envato Elements)

This concept is where you appreciate the strengths in people and the world around us. This model uses the strengths of individual people and companies. The strengths are important because they're the base upon which the future is built.

2. Inquiry

This concept step is where you ask questions. The appreciative inquiry process requires participants to ask questions where people can learn from one another and research a shared vision of the future. Participants must have a curious attitude and want to discover ideas and processes.

3. Wholeness

WholenessWholenessWholeness
Wholeness (Image source: Envato Elements)

This is the last concept and requires all participants of the appreciative inquiry model, including every member of the company. This is because good ideas can come from any person within the company. Part of the appreciative inquiry model is looking for outside perspectives.

How to Use the Appreciative Inquiry Model to Solve Problems

The appreciative inquiry process has changed from a four-step process to a five-step process. Many who practice the appreciative inquiry model recognize the fifth step to make the end result more complete. Here are the five stages of appreciative inquiry:

1. Definition

DefinitionDefinitionDefinition
Definition (Image source: Envato Elements)

The first step of the appreciative inquiry model is to pinpoint the discussion's main question or main theme. This step is where you create the opportunities and goals of the issue. The appreciative inquiry model places importance on positivity and solution-centered method to the model process.

Traditionally to solve problems, people would collect information and look at the weak points of the company. The Appreciate inquiry starts with encouraging questions to discover what's already working within a company, team, or community.

Instead of asking an old-fashioned question such as:

What can our team do to address upset customers and minimize complaints?

When following the appreciative inquiry method, you’d ask this question instead:

When have clients been happy with our work, and what can we learn and apply from those successes?

2. Discovery

The second step is where the participants create a discussion that analyzes the positive parts of the company, team, or community. When you start the step with positive questions, it causes participants to look and talk about what their strengths are. Some experts divide this step into two stages:

  1. Life-Giving Forces is where people look at positive, applicable, and successful periods.
  2. Positive Core is where people look at themes and repetitive parts within the positive stages, events, and successes.

3. Dream

DreamDreamDream
Dream (Image source: Envato Elements)

The third step of the appreciative inquiry model is where participants of the model work together to think of the future that you want for the company or team. This can mean that you're creating a graphic or illustration of your dream for the company or team.

Again, you need to look at what is and what might be. When trying to think about what you want the future to be, you need to look beyond what's normal and look at the possibilities that'll cause the company and team the success you desire.

4. Design

Design or co-constructing is the fourth step of the appreciative inquiry process. This is the step where every participant modifies the community to make it work so that the success takes place.

This means that everything that was dreamt during the dream stage will start to take place. Everything needs to be done so that what was imagined during the dream stage.

5. Deliver (Destiny)

DeliverDeliverDeliver
Deliver (Image source: Envato Elements)

The fifth step of the five stages of appreciative inquiry is the deliver, sometimes called the destiny step. In this step, you need to put the design in place. During this stage, the company or team needs to continuously invent ways to create the successful future that was envisioned throughout the process. This step also includes celebrating the little milestones and successes that happen along the way.

5 Principles of Appreciative Inquiry

These five principles describe the basic concepts of the appreciative inquiry process:

1. The Constructionist Principle

The Constructionist Principle The Constructionist Principle The Constructionist Principle
The Constructionist Principle (Image source: Envato Elements)

This principle essentially states that the reality that we experience is created through words. This is why it's important to have positive words throughout the appreciative inquiry process. You want your positive words to create a positive result and environment.

2. The Simultaneity Principle

The point of this principle is that every question we ask is fated to be asked. As soon as you ask a question, you’re creating a change. So, participants are encouraged to be curious throughout the appreciative inquiry model and ask questions throughout the process.

3. The Poetic Principle

The Poetic Principle The Poetic Principle The Poetic Principle
The Poetic Principle (Image source: Envato Elements)

In this principle, it's believed that every group of people can be learned from and studied. It also is thought that what you choose to study is important and can lead to change. Studying can build the world around us. 

4. The Anticipatory Principle

The thought behind the Anticipatory Principle is that everyone has a picture of their future, and as humans, we move toward that pictured future. So, if the person's picture is positive, then your actions will be positive.

5. The Positive Principle

The Positive PrincipleThe Positive PrincipleThe Positive Principle
The Positive Principle (Image source: Envato Elements)

This principle essentially says that positive questions lead to positive change. For the team or company to change, there must be positive affect and social bonding. Change happens best with positive questions and positivity throughout the process.

Appreciative Inquiry Question Examples

Here are some examples of Appreciative Inquiry questions:

  • What is it that you really want from this process? When you look at your highest hopes and dreams, what do you actually want?
  • What has been a time in your team/company/life when you felt that you were the most successful and effective?
  • Don’t be humble. What is it that you value the most about your company, your job, and yourself?
  • What are some of the most critical factors that make this company/team work effectively and successfully? If these factors didn’t exist, would the company be successful?

How to Ask Positive Questions

According to positivepsychology.com a positive question is,

“A question that seeks to uncover and bring out the best in a person, a situation or an organization.”

Questions are a big part of the appreciative inquiry process. Here are some tips on how to ask positive questions:

1. Purpose Questions

Purpose QuestionsPurpose QuestionsPurpose Questions
Purpose Questions (Image source: Envato Elements)

These questions dig into the why of people’s actions. This means looking past financial rewards and asking what the collective purpose is. This can even mean digging deeper than the company or team’s official vision.

Examples:

  • Why do the tasks on this project matter to the company or team?
  • What's our purpose here.
  • What is it currently that makes us proud?

2. Strength Questions

Strength questions look at the point of Appreciative Inquiry. These questions dig into what works well and what's good. These also look for what's causing something to work.

Examples:

  • What does this company (or another company) do well?
  • What makes this product top-rated?
  • What’s making the company or team work well?
  • What does this company (or another company) do that we can learn from?
  • How can we build more teamwork to work together more effectively?

3. Future Vision Questions

Future Vision QuestionsFuture Vision QuestionsFuture Vision Questions
Future Vision Questions (Image source: Envato Elements)

These questions need to inspire the future vision for the team or company. Future vision questions influence positive actions through creative images and hope that goals can be achieved.

Examples:

  • What's the idyllic future look like for the company or team?
  • What are your dreams for the team or company in five years?

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Try the Appreciative Inquiry Model Today!

To sum up, the appreciative inquiry model focuses on positivity and rewarding the people who take part. If you struggle with company culture and strategy, the appreciative inquiry process might be for you.

This article covers the appreciative inquiry process and some theories behind the model. Consider trying the appreciative inquiry model next time you need to plan.

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