Stop focusing on problems, start looking at strengths

Collaboration begins by building on those positive qualities that already exist in your team

Carol Kinsey GomanSeveral years ago, I was in Germany working with a group of high-potential employees worldwide. Their organization had identified them as valuable candidates for leadership development.

It was quite an event – a week of various topics and speakers with dog sledding as the team-building event the afternoon before my program. (Which was quite a challenge for this Californian who didn’t even own snow boots. But that’s another story.)

During my program on Collaborative Leadership, I mentioned that Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was one of my favourite strategies for finding strengths and building on those positive qualities that already exist in a team.

AI was developed at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University by David Cooperrider, professor of Organizational Behaviour. I used my own version of AI – tailored for this client and focused on collaboration and knowledge sharing. While I also utilize gap analysis and After Action Review, I especially like AI’s shift from identifying problems to looking at strengths.

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In a team setting, the leader sets the stage by stating the goal: “Our goal is to create a highly collaborative team experience.” Questions like the following are then posed to the whole team:

  • When is it that this team is the most collaborative and engaged?
  • What do we agree are our greatest strengths and successes?
  • Building on these strengths, what would an ideal future look like?
  • What are the principles and behaviours we need to focus on?
  • What action can we take right now to start us toward that ideal future?

AI can also be used in a personal self-inquiry model, with questions such as:

  • Think of a time in your career when you were the most engaged and collaborative.
  • What kind of leadership made that collaboration so successful?
  • What did you learn about collaborative leadership from that incident that could you apply those lessons in your current situation?
  • What action can you take that would have the most impact on increasing collaboration?

It’s often said that we can learn a lot from recognizing our weaknesses and reviewing our failures. I know this is true, but I also know that there are ways to learn from our successes and build on our strengths, which, believe me, is a lot more fun!

Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.

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