Action learning and appreciative inquiry are two methodologies that are useful in organizational development. They involve working with individuals and groups to identify challenges, evaluate opportunities, and define potential ways to bring positive change and growth in organizations (Revans, 2011). Action learning is an approach to personal and organizational development. It is a form of practical learning. It involves learning by doing; whereby the natural environment acts as the focal point of education (Revans, 2011). In action learning, participants work in a group, try to analyze critical issues, learn from them and use the experience to bring change in the organization. Appreciative Inquiry is a process of organizational development that involves the people in an organization to change or focus on organizational performance (Cooperrider, Whitney & Stavros, 2008). This methodology is based on the assumption that positive change is brought by the questions an organization asks, how the organization explores its problems, and how it positively envisions the future. This paper analyzes different situations where one approach may be more effective than the other. Considerations that an organization should make when selecting one of the two approaches as an organization development tool have also been discussed.
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Comparison and contrast of action learning and appreciative inquiry as organization development tools
These two approaches aim at bringing change and performance development in the organization. They analyze the problems and difficulties of an organization and device new ways that can be implemented to bring about positive change in an organization. Both action learning and appreciative inquiry have been getting a lot of attention for their success in facilitating organizational change (Waclawski & Church, 2002).
These two methods of organizational development appreciate employee empowerment through participation either physically or through suggesting ideas. Empowered employees become motivated, generate creative ideas and offer good services to clients. These methodologies are effective as they make employees loyal and committed to effecting positive change.
Appreciative inquiry is a process that involves people in an organization to focus on problems and ask critical questions, brainstorm and develop suggestions to effect positive change. Action learning also involves people working in groups or subsets to analyze critical issues, learn from experience and bring about organizational change. Therefore, both methodologies involve members of the organization to bring positive change.
The two methodologies are effective tools for organizational development because they involve group and team participation to effect change. In the appreciative inquiry, participants work as a team, engage in discussion and become inspired by focusing on other positive experiences they may have. In action, learning participants work in a group or subset, engage physically and get a first-hand experience.
Some distinctive differences also exist between these two organizational development tools. Action learning is more practical than appreciative inquiry. The participants are involved in a practical environment where the problem is encountered. They can focus on a small unit or the whole organization and learn from experience. Therefore, when they propose opportunities and pathways to bring positive change, they know what can work. This is unlike appreciative thinking, which only questions and proposes solutions out of brainstorming and lacks practicality and experience.
Appreciative inquiry does not only focus on the problem areas alone. It also focuses on what is working for the company, and access ways to make the company to reap more benefits from it. This is called affirmative focus, which distinguishes this methodology from other tools of organizational development.
Action learning does not have a prescribed procedure on how to change to bring organizational development will be affected. This makes action learning to be open because other challenges that had not been speculated at first may be discovered and still solved in the process. It is different from appreciative inquiry, which has formulated questions and envisioned result.
In the long run, appreciative inquiry becomes more effective in achieving the organizational change because it inspires the members of the organization by envisioning them. It assumes that what individuals focus on becomes their reality. This tool of organizational development does not require rewarding or cohesion to achieve positive change, as it is the case with action learning.
Similarities and differences in the role of the organization development practitioner in implementing each methodology
When implementing either action learning or appreciative inquiry an organizational development practitioner has some basic roles that are common in the two methodologies. He has a role of team building. In this case, the two require participants to work together in a team. New teams may be formed, or the existing ones restructured to ensure team spirit to bring positive change.
He has a role to ensure employee development, which is critical in an organizational development. For the methodologies to work, employees must feel motivated and as part of the whole process. Strategic planning is also required. An organizational development practitioner must ensure the goals are clear, and ways to achieve them provided. Clear vision or expected results should be effectively communicated for positive change to be implemented.
However, in the case of appreciative inquiry, the organizational development practitioner has a role to run a brainstorming session to solicit ideas on challenges, opportunities, and pathways for change (Gideon, 2012). He also has a role to motivate, inspire, and envision his team members so that they can stay focused on what they want to bring into reality.
Situations and the phases of organizational life cycle in which one approach may be more effective than the other
Action learning can be more effective in the introduction and growth phase of a product life cycle (Gideon, 2012). At these stages, the product is faced with a lot of uncertainties and the organization has an opportunity to learn in a practical environment while effecting positive change. In maturity and decline phases, appreciative inquiry is effective in organizational development. In this case, it is possible to know what is working and improve on it. Also, it is possible to reflect on what is not working, ask questions and envision the way things should be. Action learning is effective when dealing with just a small section or a department of the organization. On the other hand, appreciative inquiry can work effectively in the entire organization.
Pros and cons of selecting either of the approach
One has to consider the product life cycle before adopting the development tool to use. Consideration of the number of people to be involved is critical given that action learning is appropriate with a small group, unlike appreciative inquiry. Innovation and shared vision should also be considered in selecting the appreciative inquiry. Action planning also requires the team to be able to work practically, and the presence of a practical environment should be considered before this tool is chosen.
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Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. (2008). Appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change. Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom Pub.
Gideon, L. (2012). Handbook of survey methodology for the social sciences. New York: Springer.
Revans, R.W. (2011). ABC of action learning. Farnham, Surrey: Gower.
Waclawski, J., & Church, A. (2002). Organization development: A data-driven approach to organizational change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.