Having acted as a consultant to many different businesses I appreciate that organisations are living entities; and like all living entities, they usually tend to notice what’s become a problem rather than what doesn’t need fixing.

From the perspective of Gestalt psychology, an undue focus on problem solving is itself a problem. Energy and talent that could be put to a use that is far more productive is tied up in an essentially negative quest that often ends up draining both. Carl Jung believed that intractable human problems aren’t solved; they just recede into relative unimportance as creative energy moves on to something more interesting and growth enhancing.

Professor David Cooperrider, an expert on organisational behaviour, has developed a far more forward-looking and positive means of achieving optimal results. He dubbed it Appreciative Inquiry, or AI: refocusing attention away from problem solving toward an exploration of the success stories held by the organisation’s own people.

When an organisation defines goals and problems, a destructive divide is all too likely. The people working there tend to believe that nothing they do is ever good enough to achieve constant improvement, and they lose their ability to innovative. Something has to be going well – organisations die when nothing works.

AI involves bringing people together to identify and share an affirmative topic – something that’s desired by the organisation and gives life to it, that sponsors enthusiastic conversations about the desired future, and fosters a commitment to realising what people collectively want to see flourish in their organisation. Once selected, topics are subject to four crucial processes: discovery – appreciating the best of what exists now; dream – picturing what might be; co-constructing design – collectively building the new ideal; and destiny – how to sustain learning, improvisation and empowerment.

Harnessing the best of what’s already there in an organisation helps it (and those working there) flourish. Structuring meetings and team sessions around these principles can lead to great benefits for the organisations that get it right.

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