Appreciative Inquiry is a great approach to facilitating groups, as it comes to life in conversation and interaction. A central figure in group processes is the facilitator, they keep the group moving in a calm and steadfast way, even through the ‘tough stuff’. Appreciative Inquiry helps with this. In this blogpost, I share 5 lessons with you that I have embraced through the years:
1. Practise what you preach
Facilitators are only credible when they live and act out appreciation not only to others, but also to themselves. People will not remember what you said, they will remember your energy, how you are, your choices under pressure. An appreciative mindset goes further than just using tools; it should have become a core-value that is reflected in personal habits and choices. Let self-appreciation sink into your personality. What do you like about yourself as a facilitator? What is your strength?
Lesson 1: Keep developing an appreciative mindset in your professional and private life.
2. Phrase the topics in an affirmative way – this needs time
What is the question behind the question? I have learned to never underestimate this stage and always make sure to give it enough time. If the first stones of the foundation are not set properly, the entire building will not stand strong. What is the question the group really needs to answer? Phrase it in an open, positive way. Instead of: ‘We don’t want’, change it to ‘We do want’ What is the essence of what they really desire? Often, such a clarification process is not straightforward and discussions arise, frustration sets in. It is tempting to rush and cut this important phase short, as participants might ‘want to get going’. However, the satisfaction of a group that succeeds in crafting a truly relevant core-question is a joy!
Lesson 2: Take enough time for the wording of the “question behind the question”. Phrase this question in an affirmative way, i.e. positive, open.
3. Balance result and process
Regularly I hear from participants that “time flew by”. Elements of Appreciative Inquiry, like asking generative questions and analysing successes, release energy. It is an art to create a feeling of space, a secure setting that allows emotions and a supportive atmosphere to foster creativity, on the one hand, while keeping an eye on the results and structure on the other hand. You want to facilitate a balanced process of inclusion, where the voice of each one is heard and where a concrete output is realised.
Lesson 3: Invest time to design and shape a balanced program that lets the AI principles come to life.
4. Create a positive space
A pleasant environment contributes to good conversations. This is also a sign of appreciation of the participants. Choose a space that helps them relax, with enough water, healthy snacks, air and light. Music can play a fine role in contributing to an atmosphere of comfort and inspiration. You want to create a day that stands out and feeds positive emotions.
Lesson 4: Pay attention to the facilities and space. This supports the wellbeing of the group.
5. Focus on contact before content
Before the actual process begins, it is important to enable the participants to get to know each other, the programme and the environment. Participants who feel at ease are more likely to engage in open conversations. I have created a repertoire of active, fun, interactive exercises to open a meeting.
Lesson 5: Pay close attention to introduction and contact before engaging in content.
These are a few of my personal lessons. There are many more. I am curious to hear what appreciative facilitating means for you!