This overlooked method of conflict resolution fosters engagement and innovation.
You may have been there as a project manager. A meeting is called to resolve an issue or project in your company, but it quickly degenerates into finger-pointing, excuses and delays. These effects can spill over into the workplace and simmer for a while before someone is fired or quits. Although the problem may be temporarily resolved, it can recur with new employees.
What if all of this could be avoided?
Today’s work environment is more dependent on hybrid/remote teams than ever before. This can lead to lingering anger and misunderstandings in work settings that can cause a lot of damage.
It can be difficult to decide who is supportive of an idea or who is resistant. Virtual meetings can make it more difficult to get team members to speak up, since there is no substitute for looking around and seeing a thoughtful nod or furrowed eyebrow.
As new methods of project management continue to emerge, let’s take a look at a style that, while typically not used in project management settings, has a long and impressive history of success–appreciative inquiry.
What is appreciation inquiry?
In the 1980s, a graduate student at Weatherhead School of Management (Case Western Reserve University), developed appreciation inquiry. David Cooperider[1], who was working on an organizational behavior study with the Cleveland Clinic, discovered that there was a lot of positive energy under the surface. This model of appreciation allows you to access the best parts of an organization and use it as a tool for innovation, change, and productivity. Appreciative inquiry was first used in an array of organizational settings to find the “positive core” and build upon it for success.
Appreciative inquiry can be used to form project teams, limit storming[2], increase productivity, avoid conflict, and transcend conflict.
Appreciative inquiry is a key component of project management
The remote/hybrid environment is the best for engaging with teams in creative ways.
Meetings are an unpredictable way to accomplish anything. This is especially true when a project team faces unforeseen schedule complications, key team members’ unavailability, client complaints, or other challenges.
These issues can be further complicated by the inherent alienation of working remotely or from afar.
First, realize that problem solving is a mechanistic solution to a “broken”. It seeks to restore the system to its original state. It doesn’t always create a new way to do things and can actually hinder the development of innovative solutions. Instead, it focuses on business as usual.
While solving problems requires accurate data to be successful, the subjective opinions of team members and leaders can affect the outcome. There is plenty of opportunity for blame-pointing and finger-pointing, as well as all the toxic effects, at the “problem identification” stage.
A breakdown of a typical problem solving process in project management (Source). Today’s uncertain and complex environments require higher-order creativity. This is one that goes beyond problem-solving and focuses on engagement and innovation.
Are you ready to try something new? Here’s a quick sketch of how appreciation inquiry fits with the needs of a project team:
Diagram of appreciative inquiry applied in project management (Source).
The four Ds model encourages us to start by identifying what is working well and not by identifying what is broken.
In project management practic