Some practical tips on some of the ways you can use appreciative interviews – in one-to-one coaching, in large-scale organisational change, in team development, and in Appreciative Inquiry summits.
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You can use appreciative interviews in a variety of ways.
One way they can be useful is in one to one coaching. When you conduct an in depth appreciative interview with a coaching client, you’ll uncover a wealth of useful information about what works for that individual.
By asking what they find important and significant about the stories they’ve selected, you can discover something about their values and what motivates them as well.
Also, if you take the time to hear multiple stories of best experiences, by noticing what those stories have in common, the interviewee may discover patterns of success that they can reproduce in future.
Another way of using appreciative interviews is for organisational change. An organisation could train up maybe 10% of its workforce as appreciative interviewers, who then go through the organisation doing in-depth interviews of an hour or more with 9 or 10 other people, at different levels and in different departments.
In addition to the usual discovery of inspiring stories and identification of conditions for success, the interviewers are tremendously increasing their understanding of other people’s challenges and perspectives. This increased understanding should help communication, trust, and sharing of ideas between different areas of the organisation.
But people can still do valuable appreciative interviews even without any prior training.
Very often, when I facilitate an Appreciative Inquiry process with a team or a whole organisation, we’ll have tables of 6-8 people.
If it’s the whole organisation, you’d want each table to have a mix of people from different departments, different roles, different levels – the aim being to increase understanding of other people’s experience, and develop new working relationships across departmental boundaries.
If we’re working with just one team, at the very least we’d encourage people not to sit next to their best mate at work.
We’ll give participants an interview sheet with questions that we’ve crafted around the topic of the inquiry.
As well as the questions, the sheets will have space to make notes. I have the participants pair up with someone they don’t normally work closely with, ideally someone at a different level and from a different functional area, and ask them to interview each other using the questions on the sheet as prompts.
Around fifteen minutes each way is enough time to do an interview of this kind. I brief participants that they should go through all the questions with one person interviewing and the other telling their story, then swap roles – because if they both attempted to answer question one together, then move on to question two and so on, they would be dipping in and out of their memory and would not be able to go into it so deeply.
The other instruction I give participants is this:
“You’re not after bullet points or detached analysis, you’re after a story. You’ll know when you’re doing a good interview when you see the person you’re interviewing start to relive the experience and lose themselves in the story, experiencing the same positive emotions they felt at the time.
And you’ll know when you’re doing a really good interview when you find yourself as the interviewer feeling some of those same positive emotions.”
This process never fails to change the atmosphere in the room, as participants feel better recalling their successes, and start to open up and trust each other as sharing their stories activates their Default Mode Networks.
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