And so it has come to past that from time to time I find my self teaching groups ‘coaching skills’. Sometimes this is groups of managers, sometimes fledging professional coaches, and sometimes people with post-graduate coaching degrees or similarly impressive credentials. And yet, for all these groups, one of the hardest challenges seems to be developing the skill of asking questions rather than more tempting options like: offering solutions, giving advice, sympathising, sharing their own experience, or in some other way failing to inquire.
Many of us have noticed a strange paradox but been unable to put a name to it. We believe that a job that doesn’t demand too much of us should mean we have plenty of energy left over for our real interests. Furthermore, we anticipate that if that job not only doesn’t demand much of us but also pays us very well, then we should experience happiness: we have beaten the system! We are being paid for doing practically nothing, what could be a better arrangement?
And yet, after an initial sense of triumph, it can slowly become apparent that the logic - lots of money for little work equals happiness and a fulfilled life - doesn’t work out. Instead we feel, well, that something isn’t right. That despite the income we aren’t happy at work.
People who are interested in the Appreciative Inquiry approach sometimes struggle to understand how they can apply it to the challenge of assessment or evaluation.
Last year I ran an evening event I called a Learning Network Event. The purpose of the evening was to provide a space for those interested in positive psychology to share and learn from each other in a gently facilitated way. We used a world café process to stimulate conversation and to ensure cross-pollination amongst those present.
In many workplaces conversation is regarded as an adjunct to the real work of getting stuff done. All too often a request for a conversation is experienced as an interruption, a distraction from real work. Seen as a necessary evil, the objective is to complete the conversation as quickly as possible so all involved can get back to work. While the topic of conversation may be regarded as important, the quality of conversation doesn’t even register. This is very unfortunate as the quality of any conversation will have an impact beyond the moment.
Forgiveness has an image problem. Asked to forgive people say: ‘but I can’t forget what they did’ or ‘I can’t imagine ever being friends again’ or ‘but I want them punished.’ These responses show a confusion between forgiveness, reconciliation, forgetting and justice.
I have recently come across a great paper about human energy, it is referenced at the end of this piece. It set me thinking about what it was saying in relation to Appreciative Inquiry. These are my thoughts.
I am dreaming of a lovely family Christmas, and I don’t mind if is white or grey. I do, nevertheless, mind whether it works out or not, as well as how humanly and psychologically messy it will end up being.
Last Christmas our teens decided to surprise us by setting up a casino in the living room, dressing up as croupiers, and getting the adults (that’s me, my husband, my husband’s ex and his best friend) to be the clients. As lavish, extravagant and original as that might sound, the enjoyment of the process was rather affected by the fact that in preparing the casino set-up, the teens did not check the rules of the proposed game and a few minutes into it started arguing over the way forward. In fact, at one point, the only way forward was to end the game.
In the last twenty years a new understanding of organizations has been developed, understanding them as living human systems of enterprise and creativity. It offers as an alternative to the dominant view of organizations as large and complicated machines of production. Methodologies based on this understanding, for instance Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, World Café and SimuReal, allow the whole of the organizational domain to be approached from the living human system perspective. They allow us to address all organizational challenges from recruitment to redundancy within the same living human system frame. Four key factors underpin this approach.
Unclear objectives are sometimes unavoidable, the dangers and how to avoid as learned in Bosnia
Brief account of the book
The book has noble, honourable and inspiring intentions: it offers holocracy as a ‘new operating system’ for organizations that will create a ‘peer-to-peer distributed authority system’. This operating system creates empowered people who are clear about the boundaries of their authority, about what they can expect from others, and are able to be highly effective in their roles.
For those who would like to dip their toe into the positive psychology world I've plucked a few of the recommendations from my book, Positive Psychology At Work, for you to have a look at. Hopefully they illustrate just how intuitive a lot of this is - which doesn't make it easy to do in a hierarchical, busy organisation of course!
Elicit Success Stories
Start meetings with a round of success stories. Before you get into the meat of the meeting, usually a litany of problems and challenges, start by giving people the opportunity to share the best of their week.
Many people find meetings challenging. These five tips will help your meetings be more successful, enjoyable and productive.
You can purchase our E-booklet that will take you through preparing for and running a great meeting in a step-by-step way here
1. Start with something positive
How? Ask everyone a question like ‘What’s been your greatest success, big or small, since we last met?’ or, ‘Which of your achievements over the last month are you most proud of?’ or ‘Which of your staff do you feel most grateful too, and why?’
Why? Because sharing good news boosts mood (and shares resources) which enhances creativity and problem-solving abilities
1. Grow the strengths and resourcefulness of people
It’s all too easy to focus on how people aren’t equipped for the change: they don’t have the skills, the knowledge, the experience. How their existing strengths and resources (including their extended network) can help them answer the questions and engage with the challenge that the change poses, can be less obvious. By deliberately helping people recognize and access their existing strengths and resourcefulness we can increase their resilience, tenacity and confidence in the face of change, making the steep learning curve less daunting.
Engaged employees are a business imperative: they perform 20% better and give 57% more discretionary effort  Organizations with a high level of engagement have better quality, sales, income and turnover, profit, customer satisfaction, shareholder return, and business growth, and success.  It is estimated that currently only 19% of employees are highly engaged in their work, while active disengagement cost the UK economy between £37.2bn and £38.9bn a year .
Organizations often struggle to understand what creates engagement. Positive psychology research is revealing that employee engagement is primarily a psychological and social process. There are a number of steps organizations can take to increase engagement.
So Why Do We Need To Do Change Differently
1. Because the old ways are too slow and hard
Traditionally change has been a top-down, linear, compliance process; first designed and then implemented. In today’s fast paced world this takes too long and is too hard. People resist the pressure. Instead we need change that is whole-system owned and generated, focused on maximising tomorrow not fixing yesterday.
It is very easy for people to become demoralised or demotivated during change as work becomes harder (less familiar) and possibly less rewarding (we’re not yet skilled at it). At the same time there is often a sense of loss of past habits or pleasurable activities, and a disruption to rewarding relationships. At the same time the manager can be so distracted and pressurised with all the meetings and decisions to do with the change programme that they are less relaxed and more critical than usual. They may also be around less, removing a valuable source of positive feedback for people.
To counter-act this, to ensure that people maintain good morale, are motivated, effective and resilient, we need to concentrate on helping people maintain a positive emotional state and a belief in their ability to influence things happening in their world.
How do we make training stick? We know that investing in the human capital of our workforce by upping their skill level is vital to any organisation, but if you've ever sat through a boring training session - or when that brought back unpleasant memories of school - you know that there is high significant chance this time and money will be wasted. Here I list and explore seven tips to help your training sessions be impactful and enjoyable, for you and your trainees.
1. Step out of the expert role
Often we are asked to run a training session due to our expertise in an area. Strangely this can be a challenge as we encounter what is known as the ‘expert problem’. Essentially our own knowledge and skill are so integrated that we can’t easily separate out the elements to construct a good training path; and we have forgotten how new and challenging this all is to the novice. The danger is that we inadvertently overwhelm or confuse with our expert knowledge.
I’m thrilled to announce that I am one of the organising group for the next EU AI network get together to be held in my home town of Greenwich in London on 19th-21st of October.
The Network of practitioners from across Europe gets together twice a year to share experiences, knowledge and skills and to offer mutual support on work and life. The get together is held in the spirit of Appreciative Inquiry, which creates a unique atmosphere and experience. At this event we are hoping to attract positive psychology practitioners as well, to enhance the mix!
Some of the particular benefits of attending this event will include:
- The opportunity to spend time learning through focused dialogue with many experienced practitioners (rather than time in lectures)
Co-created change differs in its process and effects from imposed change. Whole-system change methodologies such as Appreciative Inquiry and World Café facilitate co-created change.
This is an edited extract from my new book Positive Psychology and Change
1. Calls on the organization’s collective intelligence
Participative co-creation involves, from the very beginning, those affected by the change, allowing them to apply their ‘local knowledge’ intelligence at the point at which it can save the organisation both time and money.