Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Culture of Appreciation: From' What' to 'Why' Questions

I recently picked up a report called Organizing Work for Innovation and Growth: Experiences and Efforts in Ten Companies. It was published by VINNOVA (the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems) in October 2009. The focus question for the report is: How do companies work in practice to create organizational conditions that promote innovation, competitiveness, and growth? 

One of the chapters is called Creating cultures of appreciation: Organizational innovation through employee well-being by Tony Ghaye and Ewa Gunnarsson.  One of the key messages in the chapter is that to create a culture of innovation we need to ask appreciative (positive) questions. In the view of the authors, we shouldn’t be surprised if questions beginning with ‘Why’ tend to lead to deficit-based (fault-finding) conversations, and by changing the conversations we can change the actions.  ‘Why’ questions tend to be associated with critical thinking which can be detrimental to innovation. ‘What’ questions tend to be more appreciative (and reflective) in nature. Both critical and appreciative questions are needed, of course, but the weight has tended to be on the critical side.

Ghaye and Gunnarsson give 8 examples of the kinds of questions that can promote a culture of appreciation:

1.       What is giving you most joy and satisfaction in your work right now?

2.       What were you doing recently, in managing your time that enabled you to use your strengths?

3.       What actions were you taking when you were successful at prioritizing those things that you are really good at doing?

4.       What was happening when you found yourself thinking, that really worked well?

5.       What did someone say, or do, to make you feel that your professional experience was greatly appreciated?

6.       What did you do that prompted a colleague to say, ’thank you. It’s nice to be respected’?

7.       What were you doing that prompted a colleague to say, ‘It’s great working here. It’s nice to be valued’?

8.       What did you do that enabled a colleague to say, ‘That’s different. I hadn’t thought of that.’

The questions we ask are instrumental in focusing our attention onto assets or deficits

These particular questions are mostly geared to individual appreciation and reflection, but their true value would emerge when they promote appreciation and reflection in a team.

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