The Organizational Strategist

May 28, 2010

Engage, Empower and Enthuse your Employees with Appreciative Inquiry Cascading Interviews

Filed under: Organizational Development, Strategy — Whit @ 12:09 am


There are many tasks involved with implementing a strategic initiative inside of an organization. Data gathering is often a necessary and time intensive task. Other important tasks are to generate enthusiasm about the initiative in order to bring people on board, ease the change the initiative will require, and make time to commit to undertaking the initiative. One more area that is very helpful is to make the initiative a topic at the “water cooler” areas. System-wide engagement is the ideal scope of an initiative because it would tap into every area and facet that pertains to the strategic initiative. That system may be all of the employees, a particular subset or a few parts of the whole organization. Appreciative Inquiry cascading interviews are a means to achieve all of those important tasks when undertaking such an initiative.

-How AI Cascading Interviews Work-

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) cascading interviews are primarily a means of spreading interview data gathering throughout an organization. The participants become deeply involved in the project through being interviewed and interviewing others. The interview process motivates employees, gets their buy in, and opens their eyes because of the appreciative and generative elements in it. Due to the energy involved in the process, employees share their thoughts and feelings about the topic(s) of interest because of their great experiences. Beyond those benefits, cascading interviews is a means to gather a huge amount of information in a short amount of time.

To do start a cascade of AI interviews, start with a core group, say 10 people, and do an appreciative inquiry interview with each one. During that interview, instruct them and let them know that they will then each interview 10 others. In this meeting, give clear directions, put forth guidelines/direction on whom to go to for their interviews, and describe how to go about next steps. The process continues where the interviewee becomes the interviewer. That interviewer passes along the same directions, guidelines and next steps. Those 100 who just got interviewed, each interview 10 more and so on until the desired number of interviews are obtained.

In short, cascading interviews are a very helpful tactic for data gathering. This can make it so the data gathering process is quick and easy, especially for the core designers because it distributes the workload. At the same time, it brings others on board who may be new to the initiative.

There are important points to keep in mind when setting up a cascading interview process. Below are points to consider and act upon:

  • The directions, guidelines and next steps should be crystal clear. What this means is that the design should be very tight and transferable. The spreading and shifting of roles (interviewee becoming the interviewer and teacher) can be confusing. Make it easy for them to do this to ensure success overall.
  • Have a clear, concise manner of bringing in the data. Set expectations up front on how the data should be collected and what/when the input will be called upon. This is important because it makes it so all of the interview results are fruitful in collecting information.

Through all of this there is more upfront design work because it needs to be highly organized and tightly designed. The need for a tighter design and organization is present because of the decentralized nature of the interview cascade. If the interviews were to only be done by one or a handful of people, the design could be made in a much looser fashion. If you think of the telephone game where people sit in a circle this can show how it is important to have clarity. The game works by having one person pass along a softly spoken message to his or her right. That person passes what he/she heard along to the next person to the right. This continues until the last person hears the message and states it out loud. Usually the initial message said and what was heard at the end are far from the same message. Like the telephone game, mixed messaging can result, which is why having a more thorough and encompassing design to include guidelines, structure, ease of delivery, ease of recording results and setting up the next steps are all important.


Appreciative Inquiry in itself is a very powerful approach to organizational change. It brings in the best of the organization and enables growth into grand new areas. By putting the power and ability to carry out AI interviews throughout an organization, the energy is infectious. The results are surprising and enlivening. The cascading interview approach is also a very helpful means to gather information quickly when the organizational strategists are unable to interview all of the interviewees themselves. The bigger the pool of interviewees the bigger the benefit that can be gained through cascading interviews. The tradeoff is to spend more time designing materials for other interviewees and interviewers. Consider using a cascade of AI interviews in your next strategic initiative and I bet you will marvel at the great results that are created.



  1. Wow, we have to have a conversation or three. I’ve been providing some consultative ideas to a company (I’ll leave unnamed on the web) that has a hard time providing reviews and interviews with the outcome being positive. So far I have just been providing ideas based on personal experience and ideas from people in my immediate professional network. I’d love to talk with you more about this, maybe we can grab lunch sometime and get a conversation rolling in person.

    Anyway, I’ll be at the office on Tuesday bright and early. Maybe I’ll catch you then.

    Comment by Adron — May 31, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

    • I look forward to such a conversation!

      Comment by Whit — May 31, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

  2. Hi I’m due to use AI in an organisation which has had difficulties with embracing Diversity, and there is much underground resistance at all levels .
    Would it be best to mix staff from all levels of the organisations say directors/managers/frontline and admin staff – all who will have different level of intellectual ability and some have limited literacy too. I’m concerned that that could be problematic also it could help to create greater cohesion.
    I’d welcome your thoughts
    Many thanks

    Comment by Anon — February 15, 2011 @ 4:08 am

    • Mixing staff at all levels can be very, very beneficial in opening eyes and sharing different perspectives. If there is not enough trust or respect to be open and interested in the ideas, observations, and experiences of others then it could be an opportunity to further resistance.

      What may help, should you decide to go forward, would be to take the group through some exercises beforehand. For instance, you might do any of the following:
      – Talk about the experiences of other whole systems involvement exercises (AI and the like)
      – Share examples where/how people inside this organization have worked well together in the past (this could be a positive deviant exercise)
      – Have a part of the AI that includes setting norms where it could be stated to respect others, be open, etc.
      – Hold one or more sessions beforehand where you gather the buy in and support of leaders, champions, managers, key influencers and stakeholders to support this initiative and help manage any negativity
      – On the thought of negativity, it can be helpful to simple let whatever the challenge/difficult areas be known so that the group can move on after it has surfaced
      – Per the different levels of intellectual ability, have exercises set up where limited literacy is not a problem (visual exercises, appoint a speaker/writer/facilitator that is sympathetic)
      – For those that may have a harder time participating, if possible, allow them to digest the information beforehand so they can absorb and prepare

      With any group, it’s all about finding the right balance. With more trusting, open groups the more positive change can emerge through the whole systems involvement and AI approach. However, it may not always be as effective. Doing activities that build upon each other, like AI cascading interviews (during the session or before/after) helps create momentum and breaks down the inhibitions of the participants. I expect that cultivating a strong sense of hope and possibility will be very important, especially if this is a challenging group.

      I hope that helps! Feel free to ask more questions as that might help give you more apt responses. Thanks for the comment too.

      Comment by Whit — February 18, 2011 @ 12:14 am

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