Build Trust and Improve Team Collaboration with Appreciative Inquiry

Header - Pumo - 5D Cycle

Mia Pumo, author and co-founder of Constructive Learning Design, explores the 5-D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry and shows how you can use it with your team to lay a solid foundation of communication and collaboration.


orking in teams is part of what we do as educators. We all know that, without a clear purpose, group work can feel like a big waste of time. That's why I look to the Appreciative Inquiry Process developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva as a great way to create successful collaboration built on trust, a shared vision, and clear conditions.

They outline a 5 stage cycle known as the 5-D Cycle. Teams progress through the five stages to build trust, develop a shared vision, create ideas for change, and implement those ideas using the group's strengths.

Graphic - Pumo - 5D Appreciative Inquiry

Without a defined topic, the cycle can't begin!

The 5-D cycle in action

By way of example, I'll share how I implemented the phases of an Appreciative Inquiry Cycle working with a team of educators who were striving to build trust and collaboration toward a common goal.

  1. Define the Topic: The team of educators I worked with was made up of district-level coaches, school liaisons, and content specialists. They all wanted to increase levels of trust, improve communication, and work toward a better system of supporting teachers and coaches in their schools.
  2. Discover the Best of What Is: I asked each person on this team to write an individual story of when they felt most excited and engaged as a part of this team. They described who they worked with, what they were working toward, and why this experience was so positive for them. For new team members, I asked them to write about a similar experience on another team on which they served in the past. The team members shared their stories with a partner and made a list of the themes or success factors they discovered in their stories.
  3. Dream What Might Be: At this stage, I asked the team members to project themselves two years into the future, and invited them to imagine this team as the most efficient, productive, and successful team on which they have ever worked. Then they responded to these questions:
    • What has changed?
    • What has grown?
    • What is now possible?
  4. Design What Will Be: Educators worked together in pairs to design visual representations of the "life-giving themes" they found in their stories. These were powerful images to remind the group of their strengths.
  5. Destiny: Sustain the Developments: This team then created a team commitment statement to serve as their inspiration moving forward as they continue designing successful strategies to support their teachers.

Once this team laid the foundation through the Appreciative Inquiry Cycle, they designed tools and systems to support coaches and teachers at the school level. Their level of trust improved, and their communication practices became more consistent. When teams use Appreciative Inquiry as a foundation for trust and collaboration, the process can be used again in the future as a way to build on the team's strengths to continue to grow and prosper.

Final note

Appreciative Inquiry is a strengths-based approach to both personal and organizational development. For teams in education, it's a way to build trust by creating positive emotions around the team’s past successes and building on those successes to design future projects.

It is also an excellent way for new teams to start with a solid foundation for communicating and collaborating. If there is a specific issue a team needs to address, you can use it as an alternative to gap-analysis and problem-solving approaches to change. If you are interested in learning more about Appreciative Inquiry or becoming a certified AI facilitator, find out more at the Center for Appreciative Inquiry and watch your team's joy and productivity soar!

About our Guest Blogger

Mia Pumo is the co-founder of Constructive Learning Design, an organization that develops and supports instructional coaches and leaders as coaches. She is passionate about creating positive environments for students and teachers, and designs professional development for educators based on positive psychology research. Recently, Mia and her team launched CoachFest, a conference and retreat for coaches in education, and also created CoachWeek, a virtual conference where Mia presented sessions on Creating the Conditions for Coaching Success and Navigating Difficult Conversations at Work.

Mia's passion for coaching and supporting others reaches beyond her work. Currently, she serves on the board of directors for HopeTree Family Services, and is also a certified life coach. She published her first book in 2017, What Are You Craving?: A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing the Life You Were Meant to Live.

Be sure to follow her on Twitter @mpeacepumo!

Illustration by Icons 8 from Ouch!

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