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Ask Questions that Fuel Inspiration and Engagement

By Ann Getz, Ph.D.

In the midst of navigating working remotely, homeschooling kids and keeping our sanity intact, we are forging new ground in how we engage with each other in a more effective, meaningful way. It seems that our traditional approach to problem-solving approach could evolve to mirror the new complexities of our world.

While the majority of organizations, team and individuals use deficiency-oriented problem-solving models, this approach may not keep up with the rapid shifts of our new reality. The traditional problem-solving approach of finding what is wrong and developing solutions to fix the problems, steers people to focus on what is broken. We often find ourselves focusing on questions like “what is wrong?”, “what needs to be fixed?” or “what are the problems?”.  It may be rare for us to seek information about what things are working well or areas we can build upon. The deficit-based problem-solving approach, while appropriate in some cases, can also drain energy, limit innovation, creative thinking and engagement.

An alternative solution-based approach called Appreciative Inquiry can be a very powerful tool for individuals, teams and organizations. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was pioneered in the 1980s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, two professors at Case Western Reserve University. Appreciative Inquiry is a way of being and seeing. It is both a worldview and a process for facilitating positive change in human systems, e.g., communities, organizations, groups, and individuals. The process refocuses attention on what works, the positive core, and on what people really care about. It is also a way to get the collective wisdom from team members and organizations to address problems. Appreciative inquiry attempts to use ways of asking questions and envisioning the future in order to foster positive relationships and build on the present potential of a given person, organization or situation.

When we ask AI questions, we are not ignoring the problems. we use a different lens to work with them.  So rather than getting stuck on what’s broken, we reframe questions to focus on what is valued, what we want to expand and grow, and what we are you’re willing to take responsibility for making happen.

There are three key areas that may help you foster a more appreciative view:

  • Purpose and Meaning – studies suggest people are longing for a sense of meaning in their work. We want to know that what we do matters. A company’s vision and mission are not enough to make what people do each day meaningful. The most rewarding work provide us with both individual and collective purpose and meaning. Take a few moments to pause at the start of your next ZOOM meeting and ask people: “Why is what we’re doing today important to us?”

  • Strengths – re-frame your questions to look for what’s working well, rather than getting stuck only on what’s not working. For example, if you want to improve your team’s performance start by asking: “When have we performed at our best in the past? What made this possible? How can we build upon our strengths?” If that doesn’t open ideas and dialogue, look to other examples or companies. Ask: “What does that look like for others when it’s working? What can you learn from these experiences? How could your own strengths support these practices?” Commit to finding and sharing best practice stories.

  • Envision the Future – researchers have found that positive images can pull us forward into action. New possibilities fuel us with hope and put us on the road to finding solutions, helping us to realize we have the power to make things happen. Try asking: “What do you want your future to look like? How does this align with your values? What would it look like if you were exceptional in the area? If everything went as well as it possibly could, what are your deepest hopes?” Consider what actions you could take to move you and your team from where you are now to where you want to be.

Here are a few examples of appreciative questions to get you started:

  • What do we want our future to look like? How does this support our values and culture?

  • What would it look like if you/we were exceptional in this area?

  • If there were no limits, what would we do?

  • What are successes we have accomplished over the past year? What is one thing we can build upon?

  • What are we doing well to engage our customers? our employees? our team?

  • In what ways do you inspire others to be their best?

  • What has been the high point for our team during this year? How can we replicate that approach?

  • What are we doing well as a company that we want to build upon?

  • As a team what are the drivers of our success? What can we do more of to cultivate our success?

  • In terms of your accomplishments what are you most proud of?

  • Reference team’s core values, in what ways does our leadership team demonstrate these in how we communicate and relate to each other?

  • Where do we excel (in our work practices) that we want to build upon?

  • How do we want other partners to experience our team? What do we do well to support this?

  • When have we performed at our best in the past? What made this possible? How can we build upon these strengths?

We tend to get what we focus on. During the midst of the COVID – 19 pandemic, we may want to be mindful of our approach to solve problems and engage our teams to support a positive, productive work environment. Appreciative inquiry (AI) can be an avenue to breathe renewed energy with your team, others in your life and even yourself.

What appreciative questions can you start asking to shape your and the well-being of others around you? I would love to hear about your success. Send me a note at or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Copyright All rights reserved Ann Getz, Ph.D.

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