This is the second of two Articles/VLOGS about Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In this post I present a case study for how to apply AI in a typical work scenario.
EITHER read on or watch my short animation explainer video.
CUSTOMER SERVICE CASE STUDY
To illustrate how AI works, I am going to use a case study to take us through the process. The context is a one-day workshop that would have a follow up day to examine the action planning element
Let’s say your organisation doesn’t have the best reputation for customer excellence and you decide to bring your team together to tackle the problem.
Traditionally you might start with questions like:
· What are we doing wrong here?
· Why are we getting it wrong?
· Who is getting it wrong?
Before you know it, the group will have a long ‘points of failure’ list, peppered with a smattering of blame. That list can make the situation look pretty daunting and those who are blamed may disengage when it comes to thinking about solutions.
HOW WOULD YOU APPROACH THE SITUATION USING AI?
1 – Define – Get the question right
The first part of the AI facilitation cycle is to define the right, energising question. Easier than it sounds. There is quite an art to getting this right. Your facilitator can help here. Here are a couple of examples that could work:
· When I am at my best in serving our customers what am I doing?
· What is my best ever experience around here of delighting a customer?
2 – Discover – From cowered to resourceful
Working in small groups the positively framed questions allow participants to co discover or appreciate the best of what already exists.
This part of the AI process is the story generator. Individuals tell their ‘best experience of when it all worked’ stories which become stories of discovery for those listening. As you can imagine when people tell stories that answer the positively defined customer excellence questions their stories will contain enabling factors that made the peak performance possible.
Story listeners are tasked with listening deeply so they can identify the positive enablers present in each story and collect them. After all the stories are told the enablers are identified, themed and shared to the whole group in plenary. Knowing and understanding what it is that enables customer excellence provides a stronger platform from which the group can dream of a customer excellence future.
2. Dream and have fun
This is the fun part. Now, understanding the core enabling factors and strengths, the smaller, breakout groups will be given time to create an audacious and ambitious dream of customer excellence. We don’t want them constrained at this stage by what is actually possible. We encourage them to dream big.
They are then tasked in their smaller groups with sharing what they dreamt and to do this in a creative, compelling way. Whether that is through a story, a visual, a poem, a song or a mime. We deliberately get the creative juices going because we want to know what will be seen, felt and heard in the utopian dream delivery of customer excellence.
HERE’S WHERE HAVING A GRAPHIC FACILITATOR PRESENT GETS EXCITING!
As the Graphic Facilitator listens intently to the breakout group’s dream playbacks they capture the essence of the presentations onto the large scale hand drawing live as the dreams are articulated. This big beautiful drawing is going to be an invaluable asset when it comes to reporting the outcomes of the Appreciative Inquiry workshop back in the workplace.
FROM DREAM IT TO DESIGN IT
Now the Facilitator guides the groups through the design phase. It’s time to encourage the identification of the high-level steps to take to achieve the service excellence dream.
It won’t be a detailed plan as the group still need to be in creative flow. Generally, the Design phase identifies topic areas to focus on that are broad and conceptual. This is fine, it’s at the next and final phase (Delivery) that we get brains to switch into logical, analytical planning mode.
STILL ON THE PENS!
During the playback of the groups ideas about what needs to be included in the design phase the Graphic Facilitator is capturing the high-level information for the largescale drawing. After all, people will want to use the drawing to tell the story and involve people back in the workplace to get involved.
STAND AND DELIVER
We have now made it to the last phase of the AI cycle, Deliver. It’s a phase that will be common to all the business tools. It’s time to create the PLAN! Sometimes I suggest the group is tasked to deal with the detail of a the plan phase a few days after the initial workshop but I ask them for their top three actions in the workshop session tasking them with meeting again to drill down into more detail and create short medium and long term plans. Ideally the group will continue to be facilitated to think and plan what must happen, short, medium and long term to deliver the customer excellence dream.
Picture the scene – and of course your Graphic Facilitator will! The group are energised, in love with their own customer excellence dream and feeling empowered to address the actual, practical steps that need to be taken to deliver. Participants have clarity on the key steps and actions. They have vision, energy and motivation to deliver.
People will leave AI problem solving sessions with a different mind-set to traditional problem-solving workshops because the energy and focus is positive rather than negative. They won’t have ignored the negative issues, but the positive intention generated will naturally address the negative issues that are bringing down customer excellence in the example I have talked through or it could be helping an underperforming team or problem soliving around stalled change projects as an example.
FIND A GRAPHIC FACILITATOR TRAINED IN APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY WITH FACILITATION EXPERIENCE TO RUN YOUR EVENT
Shepherding collective thinking is a key facilitator’s skill. Knowing what questions to ask and when and how to guide groups through the AI process takes practice. It’s worth looking for a trained AI practitioner who has deep knowledge of the process and good group facilitation skills to be able to get people comfortable with and contributing to the creative aspect of the process. And, of course the skills and ability to bring their visual art to the session is key. If you can get a trained AI facilitator with traditional group facilitation skills as well as strong graphic recording skills you have, in one person or organisation, everything to make your Appreciative Inquiry sessions amazing.
I should note that whilst I have used a case study that indicates the AI process is a one day affair it’s a flexible approach that can sometimes be designed to run over several months and right across an organisation. Your facilitator will help design the best approach for you.
ABOUT DRAWN TO LEARN
Jackie Forbes is the Principal of Drawn to Learn and is an established facilitator trained in and practicing Appreciative Inquiry. Her international career has led her to design and deliver workshops and development programmes within numerous well-known companies and organisations. As a skilled practitioner in traditional facilitation and Graphic Facilitation she specialises in designing and delivering Appreciative Inquiry sessions.
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Drawn to Learn has an overflowing toolkit, including learning and development programmes, team development, facilitation solutions and visual practices. Jackie is a member of the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP)