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Areas for growth part 1: Continual appreciative dialogue

Usually organizational blogs, especially blogs by civic tech organizations, focus primarily on sharing successes. However, we have found that we actually learn far more from our failures than from our successes.

So, we created this series to share our areas for growth, in hopes that you can learn just as much from our process as from our successes. This series was developed from ongoing conversations by a diverse group of 18F members, including both term-limited and career employees who have varying levels of experience and tenure (e.g., freshly arrived to more than 5 years). We joined together to talk about ways to improve our techniques, approach, dynamics, and strategy. Part 1 of our series is about Continual Appreciative Dialogue.

Continual Appreciative Dialogue (CAD) is the practice of expressing recurring praise or gratitude to a teammate or collaborator in conversation and throughout a working relationship. The practice of CAD is special because it is uncommon. Most organizations generally practice Cumulative Appreciative Farewell (CAF). CAF is the practice of gathering and storing up praise and gratitude for a teammate over time, and then sharing it with them when the person is leaving an organization or a working relationship. In the practice of CAF, the person receiving praise or thanks can often be surprised since this person may be hearing the appreciation for the first time. In contrast to CAF, CAD is not triggered by a farewell but offers appreciation in the moment.

Even though some of our term-limited employees will be leaving this year, when we offer farewell appreciation, it will not be cumulative or a surprise. It will be another expression of how we already regularly appreciate them.

Strategy Summit

We began practicing CAD at a gathering of 18F strategists in January 2019. We discovered that appreciation can be given in many ways.

During the summit, each person was given appreciation in three ways. First, the person is praised for who they are and how they show up in the world. Next, the person is thanked for gestures, actions, and activities they had done, whether for an individual, the group, or the organization. Finally, the person is offered a wish, hope, desire, or challenge, going forward in the future. The last part is intriguing because the statement can possibly suggest future appreciation as the person grows to embody or fulfill the hope or challenge.

Challenge

Publicly sharing appreciation can have an even greater impact than a personal appreciation shared between two people. When you hear good things about your teammate or colleague from someone else, tell the person so they know. Sharing praise is extremely helpful because often the person being praised is unaware.

The practice of CAD can radically change your organization. When kudos and praise are shared regularly at activities like performance reviews, project retros, and organizational meetings, it is simply icing on an already full cake, and becomes a public expression of what is regularly done between colleagues. It reinforces healthy behaviors. Over time, when done well, CAD can marginalize or push out negative behaviors that do not receive praise.

As civic tech organizations, we need to practice CAD much more than CAF. Instead of storing up all the good things about people and then sharing it with them when they leave, let us try to continually share them with each other throughout our time together.

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