A philosophy on strategy development offered within the emergent ‘frame’ of Appreciative Inquiry

Earlier this year I was invited by the theLeaders Institute of South Australia to facilitate an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) grounded cross-organisational Think Tank to identify and prototype ‘lighthouse initiatives’ for  enhancing employee and workplace wellbeing (for more information about this project, read my comprehensive Facilitator’s Case Study).

Through the experience offered by this project, I had the opportunity to ‘get on the balcony’ to gain greater clarity on my philosophy for developing and implementing social system (e.g., organisational) change and transformation. And as a result, I now have an clear, yet still emergent, approach to organisational (and community) strategy creation and implementation. 

Partway through the AI intervention my approach to facilitating the Intervention was called into questioned. I note that this was done so unintentionally and without malice. However, it caused me to stop and reflect on my philosophy of change and transformation and how I was engaging in facilitating the GLF Workplace Wellness Think Tank. It also gave me cause to cast a critical eye upon my adopted ‘frame’ of Appreciative Inquiry.

The types of questions that gave rise to my need to ‘get onto the balcony’ included:

  • Why are we only focusing on the positive – what about the negative aspects and the ‘real life barriers’ to the implementation of wellness initiatives in the workplace?
  • Why is there no set plan or firm guidelines for how we should identify our workplace wellness initiative, or how it should best be implemented?
  • Why are we still exploring possible initiatives for enabling greater health, wellness and vibrancy at work when we are more than half way through the Think Tank – shouldn’t we be focusing only on implementation at this stage of the Think Tank?
  • Why have we not created a formal scoping document of our workplace wellness intervention so that we know how we are progressing?

Each of the questions above (and the others like it) is important in ensuring the success of any AI grounded intervention. In part, many of the questions posed to me have been addressed elsewhere in literature on Appreciative Inquiry. However, given my own learning journey as an AI practitioner and also given the potential that the process of AI itself being a Lighthouse Initiative I spent some time reviewing the underlying assumptions of my approach.

In considering each of the questions posed, I identified the following three strategic threads that have influenced my philosophy of change and transformation. Each is drawn from a researcher and/or practitioner in strategy development and implementation. Each is identified as necessary for the successful implementation of change and transformation-oriented strategies within a fast-paced, non-linear and dynamic world.

Strategic Thread 1

“Strategy is the capacity of the system to respond and adapt to changes in the environment, in addition to provoking [in ways aligned to strategic intents] such changes to occur. It is collaborative, dynamic and co-evolving in that it depends on energy of learning, confidence for action, and intensity in time framing.” (Richard Hames, Futurist)

Strategic Thread 2

“Successful organisations comprehend uncertainty. They set directions not detailed strategy. They are the best strategists precisely because they are suspicious of forecasts and open to be surprised. They think planning is great as long as no one takes the plans to seriously.” (Robert Waterman, Business Writer)

Strategic Thread 3

“A successful strategy shifts the focus from ‘the plan’ to the process of planning.” (Bruce McKenzie, Strategy Consultant)

These three strategic threads have informed my own philosophy and approach to facilitating change and transformation interventions. Within the context of this AI intervention, my facilitation was grounded within the following strategy implementation philosophy.

“The process or ‘tactics’ of strategy implementation involve prototypic iterations of the strategic process to test, challenge and confirm assumptions and to sense-make the system towards its strategic intents.”

As a result, the approach taken too designing and facilitating this Workplace Wellness Think Tank considered strategy implementation to:

  1. be a process rather than an ‘activity’;
  2. involve multiple initiatives undertaken simultaneously, with each initiative being small in scope and refined across multiple iterations;
  3. be based in the undertaking of experiments that test, challenge and validate assumptions of how the strategy is best implemented within a specific organisational system;
  4. require ‘real time’ sense making of what is arising within a specific organisational system in response to the change and transformation intervention, which in turn influences the next steps of the process; and
  5. be anchored to an ‘intention’ of a presencing awareness[1] that intuitively visions the  ‘best possible future’ and then commences the process towards its realisation without developing a structured plan for how that intuitive vision might become reality.


[1] The term ‘presencing’ was first used by Otto Scharmer to describe the process (and experience) of connecting with the highest possible future (“the future that wants to emerge through you/us”) and bringing the vision of that future into the now.