Development Coach Unblocks Possibilities Flow with Strengths Approach

Development Coach Unblocks Possibilities Flow with Strengths Approach

Heaven and hell brainstorm yields actionable themes, reality check

Since self-described Jewish coach Deborah Grayson Riegel began introducing a strengths-based approach to her clientele a couple years ago, she’s seen a significant increase in energy as well as actionable strategies for creating needed change.

A coach for more than 20 years, Riegel says she had been encountering more than one organization spinning its wheels with old problems. As she became more familiar with the strengths-based Appreciative Inquiry (AI) model, both as a coaching tool and as a facilitative model, she realized the need to reframe problems to possibilities.

Now when she gets a call about traditional problems — overcoming donor objections, dealing with customer complaints, getting out of silos — she invites the caller to first reframe the topic through the AI lens.

Rather than asking how can we stop working in silos, for instance, she suggests asking how we can embrace collaboration. Rather than how do we deal with customer complaints, ask how we can delight the customer.

The reframing “starts the flow in a positive, possible way,” says Riegel.

She’s observed two key outcomes from taking a strengths-based approach.

One is a shift in energy.

“The difference in energy around the conversation, and as a meeting outcome that then leads to future and actions, has been an overwhelmingly positive one.”

Rather than people feeling like they’ve been in this meeting before, with nothing new to report, “they are excited, inspired, positive.”

Riegel notes she believes a lot of this energy stems from the fact that the meetings provide an opportunity to share “bright spots" and examples of what’s working when it’s working, which is a contrast to the usual focus of gatherings in either the professional or volunteer realm.

Riegel has also observed a brainstorm session she organizes generate a lot of valuable information for creating effective change going forward.

Called the heaven and hell brainstorm, Riegel divides her groups into two, with half discussing what they would do if they had all the time and money to throw at a challenge.

“I ask them to think as big as they possibly can, and then even bigger than that.”

The other group is a shift from the traditional AI model, though also both fun and effective, according to Riegel. It asks what can be done to make the problem even worse than it is now.

“These two brainstorms yield a tremendous amount of information,” she notes.

For instance, a group recently dreamed up huge ideas for igniting stronger collaboration, from holding a next meeting at Oprah’s house to hiring a limo to bring people to gatherings to featuring top of the line business experts.

While these ideas certainly weren’t actionable, they did reveal themes that could be acted upon, such as including impressive expertise, building in a sense that the gathering was something special, and was convenient to attend.

The hell brainstorm for the same topic included suggestions like don’t have any follow-up, tell people they need to bring a higher-up because they’re not good enough, don’t follow up on anybody’s ideas and make sure people feel like you only want them for their money.

Riegel notes the hell conversation tends to be the particularly fun session.

Two follow-ups are possible from this latter session. One is that the list becomes a don’t-do list.

The other perhaps more important step is to use the list as a reality check, to dig deep and ask which of these items might the group in fact be guilty of, preventing them from moving forward.

“That is a very important piece of the conversation that people sitting around the table can then take back to their stakeholders, their department, their organization to say, ‘We need a reality check.

“(We) need to look at ourselves and say are we actually doing any of those things already?'”

Riegel notes the question is important because sometimes the best way to move forward is “to shift negative behaviours out of reverse and just into neutral.”

-- More to Come

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Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger has been a Generative Journalist and curator with Axiom News for more than 15 years.

She's most grateful for the incredible people she gets to work with every day at Axiom News, as well as the many other amazing folks she's encountered through this work.

"I have always seen the opportunity to do this work as a gift," she says.

Michelle's writing has also been published by a wide variety of other organizations and publications, including the following:
- Abundant Community, an initiative of authors John McKnight and Peter Block to awaken the power of families and neighbourhoods
- PLAN Institute, a network dedicated to enabling families to create a good life for people with disabilities
-.New Scoop YYC, Calgary's news co-op practicing Generative Journalism
- The Canadian Community Economic Development Network
- Nieuwmakers, a Belgian news agency
- Restore Commons, an initiative of Peter Block and friends
- Academy for Systemic Change

Contact Michelle: 705-741-4421 ext. 27 or michelle(at)

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