When Schlegel Villages first embarked on an Appreciative Inquiry summit in the fall of 2010, the organization was reimagining approaches to care and support for the residents who call a village home. It was the beginning of what has come to be known as the organization’s culture change journey, and from that 2010 summit on, every data point from resident perception of life quality to team member engagement has shown continual improvement.
Eight years later when 360 people gather for the annual Schlegel Villages operational planning retreat in Niagara Falls, Appreciative Inquiry once again plays an important role in guiding the organization’s imaginings of the future. In 2010, the group focused on the resident experience whereas the 2018 summit, team members take centre stage: when each team member is engaged and committed to their role in the villages, after all, their positivity naturally influences other aspects of life in their neighbourhoods, creating a better environment overall.
Appreciative Inquiry is a path to organizational transformation that asks stakeholders to “discover” their current strengths and “dream” about what might be possible if those strengths were built upon. Ginny Santos, the founder and collaborative leader of NeOlé Consulting, leads the session on Day 2 of the operational planning retreat. Harnessing the power of technology in the form of iPads, Ginny poses a series of appreciative questions designed to provoke thought, and collects the answers from 360 people in real time.
“We use (technology) to help us cross-fertilize all of the genius ideas, all the experiences, all the insights that we have across this room,” Ginny explains. “Using the iPads instead of flipchart paper is going to allow us to see the ideas that are coming up from across the room, and be inspired by what those at another table are contributing.”
Engagement is immense from the moment Ginny poses the first questions, and steady streams of hundreds of responses are collected for use later by a core team that will design an organizational “Team Member Aspiration” statement. Ginny, who has worked with countless organizations to draw out the best contributions of all stakeholders in their transformation quest, was immediately impressed with the Schlegel Villages commitment to the process.
“This group is definitely unique from all the groups that I’ve worked with,” Ginny says as the tables buzz with activity and the iPads light up with answers. “You can definitely tell that the positive energy is genuine; you can tell that they are proud to be doing the work that they are doing. There is so much energy in the room and everyone is so engaged in the conversations.”
In the first warm up questioning exercise alone, Ginny points out that more that 400 ideas flooded through in less than five minutes “which is unbelievable.”
Watching this level of engagement in a team of people committed to the care of some of society’s more vulnerable citizens “makes me extremely excited and very optimistic,” Ginny says, smiling wide as she scans the incoming ideas on her screen.
Note: That evening, a core team of volunteers used all the information collected with the iPads to create the following team member aspiration statement: “At Schlegel villages, we have an amazing culture that stellar team members want to be a part of. We care about our team members as much as we care about our residents. As one family, we learn, grow and move forward together. We are passionate and find fulfillment in making a difference in people’s lives. Our caring community honours and encourages well-being, and team members are appreciated in personally meaningful ways. Through mentorship, ongoing support and education we are empowered to go beyond the status quo and unleash our full potential.”
“You can be you while being a part of our family.”