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Appreciative Inquiry - Reinforcing What Works


There are many ways to identify problems in an organization. Typically managers are stimulated to look for what’s working well and what isn’t working. An alternative approach focuses on what is working well (Appreciative Inquiry) and can help build energy and commitment for growth and development. This is an especially powerful tool for highlighting where relationships are working between diverse individuals and teams. Appreciative Inquiry can be used to identify role models and best practices for others.

Examples of situations in which to use the tool

  • You have a highly functioning work team that wants to expand its representation by diverse groups.

  • You want to increase the functionality of the team around team issues not related to diversity.

  • As a “tune-up” for your team or work group.


  • There are diverse relationships already in existence among your team or employees.

  • You are able to facilitate this kind of dialogue. If not, contact your HR department or an outside facilitator.


Appreciative Inquiry is a philosophy of organizational change developed by David Cooperider, suggesting an approach different from focusing on what’s wrong. Appreciative Inquiry consists of three steps:

  1. We explore what works in an organization, team or relationship;

  2. We examine the conditions that make the best work possible; and

  3. We create a vision for the future that builds on the strengths of past experience.  

Appreciative Inquiry is an excellent tool to use for team development, particularly when your team is working well together and you want to keep it that way by helping people build strong relationships and work processes. 

Using Appreciative Inquiry requires a shift from the usual problem-focused model in which we identify what is wrong, determine the cause, choose a solution and implement it. There is nothing wrong with this approach per se; identifying and solving problems is a useful tool particularly when there is a straightforward solution. If a problem solving approach is overused, however, it can drain the creative energy of individuals, groups and organizations, and cause us to focus only on what is wrong. How often have we left meetings depleted by the anxious attention on difficulties with little energy left for implementing the carefully crafted solutions? 

Using what we know about what is working well can build energy and commitment for growth and development, but it takes a conscious decision to do so, an understanding of the assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry and practice.

Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry

  • In every society, organization, or group, something works.

  • Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.

  • The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.

  • People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the unknown).

  • If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what are best about the past.

  • It is important to value differences.

  • The language we use creates our reality.

The process below will guide you on using Appreciative Inquiry at a team retreat or a series of team meetings.

Using Appreciative Inquiry for Team Development

    1. Provide copies of “The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry” for team members to read (see reference below).

    2. Have team members jot down their answers to the questions on “Your Team at it’s Best”.

    3. Have participants share their answers in pairs, engage in conversation about them and be prepared to share the most exciting information, best story, or most “quotable quote” from their dialogue with the whole team. Having pairs write their most exciting information on chart paper to post can be helpful.

    4. What circumstances make it possible for your team to be at its best?

      Try to set aside clichés and preconceptions and get firmly grounded in the memories of actual experiences that have been shared in order to explore what it is about yourself, the situations, the task and others that have made this a peak performance for your team. Ask the whole group to examine the information gathered to answer this question. Record the information on chart paper.

    5. What are the attributes of a highly effective team?

      Have your team use the information you have gathered about past success to focus on creating a vision for a highly effective team that is sustainable (within the laws of physics), desired (people want it to happen) and motivating (people will work to make it happen).

    6. Have each person spend ten minutes alone thinking about what he/she has done to help move the group toward any of the attributes and, if anything comes to mind, to note things that others have done well. Have each person share his/her reflections with the team.


For more information on Appreciative Inquiry and a bibliography of other resources please consult The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, Sue Innis Hammond, The Thin Book Publishing Company, 1996.

The Diversity Toolkit
(A Product of Cook Ross, Inc.)