Appreciative Inquiry (AI): Practical Application

Do you know how to engage positively using an Appreciative Inquiry?

Appreciative Inquiry (AI): Practical Application

In his speech, An Evening with Sir Richard Branson (Sunday 26 March), he highlighted the importance of positive interaction with employees.  Generally, staff flourish when they feel part of a family; not only will they thrive but good people will stay. Therefore, in this section, we are going to look at Appreciative Inquiry (AI): Practical Application and how it contributes to making a difference in the lives of people.

How do you make a difference in the world?

Additionally, a second powerful comment Richard Branson made was:

‘If you don’t make a difference in the world you have wasted your life.’

It is possible for everyone to make a difference in the world, however insignificant it may seem. In my experience, Appreciative Inquiry is the value I bring to my team because they flourish and grow when I engage with them whilst acknowledging their strengths.  Through this method, I explore problems by encouraging positive employee participation. This approach is grounded in Psychology and investigates organisational behaviour by having an optimistic focus, and as a result, heighten potential through positive reasoning. It contrasts the conventional problem-solving methods that only identify weaknesses and risks.   When I engage my employees I encourage them to view their situation through appreciative lenses (finding positives).

What makes Appreciative Inquiry unique as a management tool?

Here we observe the uniqueness of employees’ messages by using a positive method of inquiry that allows us to listen deeply, engage fully and bracket assumptions.

  • Because organisational change can be complicated,  Appreciative Inquiry can be used as a management tool to identify strengths and focus on building teams through positive interventions.
  • Unlike AI, most interventions focus on pathologies and malfunctions within organisations.
  • Generally, the other interventions highlight risks and system improvements by finding gaps.

As an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator, my focus is less on operations and more on relationships. Therefore, I control the environment, and as a change agent, focus on positive outcomes.

Practical Application: Case Study

This does not mean that Appreciative Inquiry only considers positive issues. On the contrary, Appreciative Inquiry is a collective discovery of issues that are addressed in a positive manner. Previously, I worked with an organisation where the line manager (let’s call him John) noticed that productivity in his department has dropped since he started. I was asked to address his team and we engaged them, adopting a positive stance.

We wanted to find out why their behaviour changed. The first question:  Tell me about a time when things worked for you a time when you felt motivated – responses included:

First, “At that time we had regular Monday meetings and roles were clear.  We had good relationships.”

Second, “I worked really well with Larry about 3 years ago. I was really comfortable with that management style.”

Third, “We were consulted previously.  I feel that the previous owners consulted more with the employees. I really felt part of the greater organisation.”

As we can see from the above, the relationships between management and staff greatly affected the attitudes of the team.  This is the first part in a series of three.  To illustrate Appreciative Inquiry, we will go into greater detail in the following sections.

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Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D. & Stavros, J. M. (2008). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: For Leaders of Change (2nd ed.). Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom Publishing.