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Carol Kinsey GomanSeveral years ago, I was in Germany working with a group of high-potential employees worldwide. Their organization had identified them as valuable candidates for leadership development.

It was quite an event – a week of various topics and speakers with dog sledding as the team-building event the afternoon before my program. (Which was quite a challenge for this Californian who didn’t even own snow boots. But that’s another story.)

During my program on Collaborative Leadership, I mentioned that Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was one of my favourite strategies for finding strengths and building on those positive qualities that already exist in a team.

AI was developed at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University by David Cooperrider, professor of Organizational Behaviour. I used my own version of AI – tailored for this client and focused on collaboration and knowledge sharing. While I also utilize gap analysis and After Action Review, I especially like AI’s shift from identifying problems to looking at strengths.

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In a team setting, the leader sets the stage by stating the goal: “Our goal is to create a highly collaborative team experience.” Questions like the following are then posed to the whole team:

  • When is it that this team is the most collaborative and engaged?
  • What do we agree are our greatest strengths and successes?
  • Building on these strengths, what would an ideal future look like?
  • What are the principles and behaviours we need to focus on?
  • What action can we take right now to start us toward that ideal future?

AI can also be used in a personal self-inquiry model, with questions such as:

  • Think of a time in your career when you were the most engaged and collaborative.
  • What kind of leadership made that collaboration so successful?
  • What did you learn about collaborative leadership from that incident that could you apply those lessons in your current situation?
  • What action can you take that would have the most impact on increasing collaboration?

It’s often said that we can learn a lot from recognizing our weaknesses and reviewing our failures. I know this is true, but I also know that there are ways to learn from our successes and build on our strengths, which, believe me, is a lot more fun!

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.

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