Attitude in a potential Team (or organization) can be appreciative if it is embedded in a futures-oriented perspective. Narratives should be encouraged that speak not so much to the potential Team or organization’s past, but rather to its desired future. Put simply, the stories being told by group members can help to create (or re-create) the reality in which this group now operates or could operate in the future. At the heart of what is often identified as “appreciative inquiry” is this emphasis on the creation of an uplifting and guiding narrative of possibilities (that have arisen from the moments of specific and timely appreciation already identified and shared in the group).
Obviously, this appreciative perspective will often be met with cynicism – or at least skepticism. There certainly is good reason to be cautious about the repeated and often inappropriate engagement in appreciation. It can be used to disguise the difficult issues facing the group. “We are looking up at the sky (the future) when we should be looking down at the ground (the present).” Furthermore, there are some challenges associated with the interpersonal need for openness that can’t be fully addressed through the engagement in appreciation. As we have done regarding inclusion and control, we will identify and briefly describe three of these barriers and frame them as phenomena: (1) the sanctuary phenomenon, (2) the human relations phenomenon and (3) the faux openness phenomenon (revisited).
The Sanctuary Phenomenon: High levels of openness can be precipitated by the wide-spread perception of the group or Team as a safe place in which to disclose previously closely held thoughts, feelings and observations. A group, for instance, might schedule a two-day retreat where everyone is expected to be candid. The group might even bring in a consultant to conduct interviews that are confidential (thereby enabling members of the group to be candid). The results are reported out with identities being withheld. While this report out provides an opportunity for openness among group members, it can also create conditions of threat and denial.
A sanctuary might be created for a short period of time—and might even be wonderfully appreciative in nature. However, it is never a substitute for sustainable establishment of appreciative structures, processes and attitudes. It should be the aspiration of every consultant and coach to “work themselves out of a job” by developing the Team’s capacity to create the safety needed to engage in open conversations and deliberations—without an external conductor.
Those of us providing human relations training during the 1960s and 1970s learned a painful lesson regarding sanctuary. People attending our sensitivity training and encounter group sessions went back home to find that their new-found openness was not always welcomed. Damage was done and we must be careful about the indiscriminate creation of sanctuaries that are unrelated to back home openness.Download Article 1K Club