Do You Know & Use Appreciative Capacity Building?

Capacity building can occur at the individual level or at the group level. At the individual level, the goal is to help people build their skills and become high performing and successful in their work. At the team or organizational level, it is to build high performing, successful teams, organizations and other groups.

Appreciative capacity building is anchored in an idea known as Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative capacity building uses a “strengths based” approach. This means it focuses on success rather than failure – what is working rather than what is broken, in an individual or group.

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It does not ignore problems; it chooses to address them differently. One way it does this is to acknowledge that some problems that become debilitating to a person or group, may be so complex that they defy simple or “expert” solutions. Further, it helps people and groups avoid being drawn so deeply into complex but fixable problems that they cannot find their way out.

There are three ways to become an appreciative capacity builder who focuses on amplifying success rather than fixing problems:

Change your View
Instead of automatically looking for what’s “broken” and going wrong in a situation, look for what is working and going right.


Dialogue instead of Diagnose
This is how you discover what is working. You ask questions and you listen. In dialogue you ask questions from the outset that directs the conversation toward solutions rather than always leading back to the problem.


Amplify their Strengths
This means to help the individual or group develop an action plan in which they focus on doing more of what is already working rather than focusing on solving a specific problem.


Appreciative Capacity Building works for several reasons:

  • It helps people see and use “workarounds” to some problems they cannot solve because they do not have the resources, position or power to fix them. Sometimes all they can really do is focus on doing what they already do well and let that be the “work around” that leads them to success.
  • It refocuses attention away from problems that really are just annoyances, but not really problems. Problems that are actually only annoyances attract attention because they are so irritating. However, if people and groups can refocus their attention toward taking actions that are already being successful, they will soon free themselves from that annoying “problem.”
  • It unleashes creativity that is needed to fix problems. Some problems can be so overwhelming that people and groups cannot focus on anything else. By using an appreciative focus, we can move people and groups to do things that will make them feel and be successful again. Once they are experiencing success again, even a little, it begins to break the grip of the problem and release the creativity that will help them find solutions to it.

Appreciative Capacity Building challenges us to look for potential rather than problems. It also asks us to have faith in our people and teams to create and innovate solutions with our support. It may feel a bit uncomfortable when we first try it, but our comfort with and skill in using Appreciative Capacity Building will increase with repetition.

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