Leadership in Action – 5 Questions for Conducting Appreciative Inquiry One-On-Ones

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As leaders, we generally have many opportunities to have one-on-one meetings with each of our direct reports. These meetings tend to be focused on the problems of the moment, and issues that need to be solved today. Very little time is focused on what is actually working. Taking time to have at least 30 minutes every two weeks, to step back from the daily urgent issues, allows us to Nurture Growth and maintain alignment to long term development. Utilizing an Appreciative Inquiry approach (David Cooperrider), by focusing on what is working, brings a structured way of employing Flick-back / Flick-up — bringing past success forward to apply to current performance. The following five questions form the agenda of the conversation.

  1. What are you proud of from the last two weeks? This simple question is the key starting point for these discussions. It will take a few sessions for your team members to get comfortable with this, but it is a vital question for you. First, this helps them build efficacy that their effort is making a difference and builds pride in accomplishments. Second, it is linked to their perception of what they are proud of, so you get insights into how they are growing based on their own goals, not necessarily yours. Finally, these proud moments can be used later to help them overcome difficulties, reminding them of what they were able to accomplish in the past.
  2. Who is doing a good job on your team? This question is important if they have direct reports as well. It allows them to look at their team’s performance in a different way. Traditionally, managers work to avoid problems bubbling up in the organization. While that is valuable, having them also focus on what is working changes your team members’ outlook toward their team. An added bonus is that you get a better sense of who your top performers are two or more levels down. When you know that someone has done something effective, you can take the time to thank them personally for their work and note the impact it has had on executing organizational strategy.
  3. How are you doing on your goals? This provides a way to review all of the expectations and timelines so that both you and your direct report are on the same page for the status of each goal.
  4. Any concerns? While this question may bring you back into the urgency of the moment, it is important because they have your attention to open them up for these issues. Within the context of the first three questions, these concerns tend to be broader in perspective than the ad hoc-type meetings that come up day to day.
  5. How can I help? This is giving them the chance to say what they need. Most requests will be reasonable, but some will not. When the request is not, you are able to clarify what you can do, which then opens up the opportunity for them to connect with others inside the department and the entire organization.

The overarching goal of these one-on-ones is for you to listen. These sessions provide a very effective way for them to communicate up the organization and for you to Nurture Growth in your direct reports, as well as reflecting back to their team members lower in the organization.