When people gather to accomplish a common task, they also feel seen, heard and witnessed as individuals—even while tending the shared task of the whole. Appreciation Rounds are a collective call out that help make tacit group culture norms explicit, while also supporting the leadership development and personal mastery of participants. Starting meetings with an appreciative exercise often leads to an increased willingness to learn in public. We are often more able to admit mistaken assumptions and shadow behaviors when we trust that others see and hold us fully.
Give individuals 2 minutes to journal or reflect on who they might like to publicly appreciate and for what. How does the affirmation speak to shared (or aspirational!) group norms? How is this a contribution to the whole?
Allow each person to offer their positive call-outs. This can either be done using the popcorn technique, allowing anyone to speak when they’re ready, or it can be done sequentially around a circle or tables. We want to honor the rule of “no forced sharing”, so your choice here matters. This leads to considerations about how we invite participants to share their observations.
We want to encourage those who don’t often volunteer to go first. I usually compromise by asking for a volunteer to start off and then proceeding around in a circle. I add the caveat that anyone can pass and we’ll come back to them. If they pass a second time that’s fine. The advantage of using the popcorn technique is in mitigating time pressures—by not having to hear from everyone while still growing a generative meeting atmosphere.
You may want to take a moment for an optional additional round of comments to reflect on themes participants heard in the affirmations. This is a way of practicing collective sense-making, one of the highest capacities provided by working as a group. One prompt that can help engage the group is to ask them to name any commonalities they heard. It can also be interesting to ask for observations about any divergences or polarities the group heard in the values expressed. We want to honor both alignment and divergence in groups, since fluently working with both is a pathway to innovation.
Affirmation Rounds are one way to model catching each other doing things right. It also creates a sanctioned public forum for offering appreciation. The philanthropic and nonprofit sector is notorious for forgetting to celebrate. Our earnest and dogged acceptance that the reward for good work is more work often precludes us from enjoying the benefits of naming shared success/partying. For those of us pursuing SROI (Social Return On Investment) we still lack a common evaluative formula that braids impact and data. We need time to tell stories and recognize our next steps down the path to healthier and more equitable communities. Celebrations provide punctuation. And in that pause we are invited to feel both the impact of our work and observe how the completion of this action cycle might inform our next iterations.
For more on Powerhouse Convening, please download the complete guide.