Appreciative Team Building by Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, Jay Cherney and Ron Fry
This short book (98 pages) provides a strong starting point for anyone wanting to build a more positive and productive culture in their team.
A few pages in, I found this eye-opening encapsulation of what’s wrong with the “conventional wisdom” on team-building:
“Even in training programs to help teams develop effectively, the most popular models today shape participants to expect and welcome storming as a necessary phase of a good team’s development. The very idea that in order to get better at teamwork, we must engage in some special form of fighting or arguing with one another is a reason people partly dread being assigned to new teams or projects. The language itself shapes powerful, often self-fulfilling prophecies.”
It seems so obvious now they’ve pointed it out!
The heart of the book is a set of 48 multi-part ‘positive questions’, around such subject areas as “Aligning Purpose and Goals” and “Promoting Leadership”. You could use any question to interview team members individually, have the team explore a question as a group, or have team members pair up and interview each other.
Having so many questions to choose from could save you a lot of time, as you can just select (and adapt, if necessary) the questions relevant to the aspects of your team’s performance that you want to develop.
By the time you have read or tried out a few of the questions, you would find it easy to create more of your own. For example, questions 7-10 are around balancing the various preference pairs in the Myers-Briggs model. You could easily develop similar questions around whatever model (e.g. Belbin team roles) your team is familiar with.
The other sections of the book cover ten ways you could use the questions, for applications ranging from “Selecting Team Members” to “Energizing Team Meetings”, plus a step-by-step guide for conducting a self-managed appreciative inquiry, and a template for building your own appreciative interview guide.
What I’d like to see in the next edition: 1) perhaps a little more practical advice on how to get the process going if you’re starting with a very cynical or demoralised team, and 2) an index.
Overall, this is a very handy book for team leaders who want to create a more positive and therefore more productive climate in their teams.
Review by Andy Smith