Appreciative Inquiry Supports the Journey to Teal – Part 1

By Gertraud Wegst and Dorothee Bornath for Enlivening Edge Magazine

Part 2 of this series of 3 articles can be read here.

In many organizations, the longing for wholeness, more appreciation, a sense of purpose, and – at least to some extent – self-management is noticeable, even in organizations not aware of the Teal or Reinventing Organizations context.

Appreciative Inquiry is a value-oriented change and development process that starts from and is based on creating a safe space in which people feel seen and appreciated as whole human beings. On this basis, they are able to contribute fully, listen into their shared purpose, and create the desired future in a more and more self-managed way.

All three Teal breakthroughs of Wholeness, Evolutionary Purpose, and Self-Management are in-built qualities in the AI processes. And since it is a neutral process, any theme, as well as the breakthroughs themselves, can be addressed as a “core-theme.”

Since AI is such a powerful process and support structure, we want to tell you what this method is and to encourage you to experiment with it.

About AI

Appreciative Inquiry is a philosophy as well as a methodological approach for team and organizational development. Without denying problems, it is focused on the unfolding of resources and potentials. AI is a value-oriented process that allows individuals, teams, and organizations to follow their inspiration and outgrow their problems and boundaries.

AI is based on the following assumptions:

  • People and social systems always develop in the direction of their focus and awareness.
  • Every human being, every relationship, and every system has unsuspected and unused positive potential that comes to light now and then.
  • People face the unknown (the future) with more trust and comfort if they take something from the known (the past) with them.
  • If we continue something from the past, it should be the best out of the past.

The past and present are rich with positive experiences and insights, and can be an infinite source for development, performance, and success.

The method was created by Dr. David L. Cooperrider and Dr. Suresh Srivastva at the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio in the 1980’s.

Dr. Cooperrider said: “Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves a systematic discovery of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to heighten positive potential. It mobilizes inquiry through crafting an ‘unconditional positive question often involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.’ ”

The success and the potency of Appreciative Inquiry can now also be explained by neuroscience: People engage in development and change if they are invited, encouraged, and inspired. They need the possibility to be impactful. All this is fulfilled through Appreciative Inquiry!

Preconditions for Success

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a clearly-structured, guided process, neutral in its nature when it comes to the content of the topics. A profile of the whole system should always be involved by the facilitating team, including affected systems like suppliers, customers etc. It is crucial that all concerned and affected people, or at least their representatives, are included in a way that they are really able to truly participate without hierarchical preconditions. A saying in the AI field sums it up: “Don’t do anything about me – without me!” The decision-makers of the respective system need to understand the method and be open for the process to unfold.

A successful AI process needs enough time for the people involved to elaborate on results that are in alignment with the people of the system.

True Appreciation

Appreciation does not close its eyes to problems and reality. On the contrary, if reality is not accepted as it is, energies are bound to defence, fear, and repression, to feelings of shame and guilt or our own helplessness. By accepting reality as it is and as it is not, energy is released for self-care and creation. Actually, in life, illnesses, the loss of a loved one or of one’s workplace are often turning points where we start to look at life from another perspective.

Encountering life in an appreciative way also doesn’t mean ignoring the existing shadows. True appreciation implies honestly perceiving what is, even that which lives quietly, covered up, repressed in the shadow of the obvious. The next step would be watching for the tied energy.

My being aware of and accepting such things as my anger, my rage, my fear, my stress, my insecurity, and my indolence will free the energy used to keep those aspects hidden or rejected. Only then will I be able to research their inherent value, power, and message. All those unloved parts hold a treasure and serve a purpose; they could be mechanisms to protect, to inform, or to activate myself.

True appreciation means openness and benevolence for light and dark aspects. There are many effective mechanisms and impulses slumbering also in the shadow; when I accept and use them, they make me richer and more complete.

In situations that have escalated emotionally, or where injuries, resentments, and other negative emotions have taken root in the system and daily encounters, it is crucial to give them an appreciative safe space where they can be expressed and acknowledged. AI can be very effective in helping people be able to express what bothers, annoys, and offends them.

“Define” Phase – the prerequisite and necessary basis for a successful AI process

To carry out an Appreciative Inquiry process in an optimal way, it is necessary to define what “core themes” of the inquiry should be and what the “system” of the inquiry should be, meaning who should be involved. Some people think this phase is so crucial for the process that they consider it as an inherent part of the cycle.

The Four Phases of Appreciative Inquiry

The process, in which the power and energy of appreciation and of the three Teal breakthroughs can unfold in an organization or system, is the “4-D-Cycle”. It is the script for change:

  • Discovery Phase: Exploring and understanding what is working well and where the potentials can be found – corresponding with Teal breakthrough: Wholeness
  • Dream Phase: Inventing and designing how it could be at best, if all potentials are activated – corresponding with Teal breakthroughs: Wholeness & Evolutionary Purpose
  • Design Phase: Designing a bridge into the desired future – corresponding with Teal breakthrough: Evolutionary Purpose
  • Destiny Phase: Realizing the desired future in a sustainable way – corresponding with Teal breakthrough: Self-Management

In Parts 2 and 3 of this series of articles we will go more into the details of the phases to explain how the whole AI guided process unfolds.

GertraudWegstnew Gertraud Wegst  Appreciative Inquiry practitioner + trainer, Master Coach and coaching trainer, contributor to Reinventing Organizations Wiki and Teal for Startups group.
Led a dietetic centre for binge eaters, 4 nursing homes with 600 tenants with staff from more than 10 different countries and was Practice Leader Germany of an international management consulting firm. Lead Link of Die Wertschätzer E-mail   Phone +49 170 5214080



Dorothee Bornath Die Wertsch‰tzer 161001-2 Foto: Rolf K. Wegst


Dorothee Bornath Holacracy practitioner + Sociocracy training, Coach, Appreciative Inquiry practitioner + trainer and facilitator of large group interventions in organisations and public participation. Created together with Gertraud and other colleagues Die Wertschätzer (The Appreciators) – Coaching, Training, Consulting – with an AI process. Role of Organization Evolution in Die Wertschätzer E-Mail   Phone +49 177 5417216 Photo: Rolf K. Wegst