The Evolution of Core Teams

Posted: September 18, 2023

A Note from the Center for Appreciative Inquiry


Over the past few months Ezelle Theunissen has shared insights on AI facilitation. In September’s blog, we spotlight the long-term commitment to learning with, and being inspired by, Core Teams. This is a learning journey Ezelle has shared with Kathy Becker and Melissa Robaina over many years. Across continents and multiple languages, we have individually and collectively welcomed in new ideas, and been radically changed – in a good way – by the wisdom and openness of Core Team members. This is our fourth offering in this series that taps into our love for Appreciative Inquiry and facilitation.  While we initially intended this series for Appreciative Inquiry Facilitators, we hope to inspire anyone interested. And we hope to learn from you how this journey might inspire you.

The four-part series includes:

Appreciative Process

Appreciative Agreements

Appreciative Presence

And now, this month’s reflection, the Evolution of Core Teams. We invite you to read on.

The Evolution of Core Teams

When we were starting out as AI facilitators, our work with Core Teams was primarily focused on the Definition phase (first “D) of a 5-D AI Summit event. Generally speaking, an AI Summit is a once-off, 1 – 4 day event, which brings a whole organisation together to experience a facilitator-led AI process from start to finish.

A Core Team would be assembled in advance of the Summit to help the facilitators define the topic of inquiry and modify and test the interview guide. A Core Team is a representative sample or “deep slice” of the whole organisation or large system.Several members of an Appreciative Inquiry Core Team working together in a group setting; some in chairs and some on the floor with materials surrounding them.

Through the foresight of one remarkable executive director we had the privilege of working with for many years, the Core Team evolved into something much more. The assembly of diverse voices became a conduit for weaving AI into the organisation’s on-going investment in their team-spirit and a values-driven organisational culture.

Moving Beyond the Mandate

Instead of its function being tied to a once-off event – and therefore having a limited lifespan – the Core Team became a renewable self-organising “hub” with the mandate to design, prototype and implement the annual all-staff retreat. Each retreat would highlight one of the organisation’s values which would become the focus of inquiry and retreat theme. AI became the central organising methodology, often hand-in-glove with other complementary whole systems methodologies.

What started out as an externally-facilitated AI Summit; over a decade evolved into a staff-led annual retreat cycle. 

The annual retreat thus becomes a means to pause, reflect, harvest learning, rebuild relationships, re-align strengths and values and revitalise the organisation’s purpose in an ever-changing landscape. It is a collaborative, reiterative process that is constantly updated, and as a by-product, promotes an embodied appreciative organisational culture.

Core Team members continue to communicate with their respective teams they represent, throughout the year.  Communication is two-way – from the Core Team to the whole; and visa versa.  An example of communication from the whole to the Core Team may be in providing essential context on various aspects of the upcoming annual staff retreat, ensuring diverse needs are met. An example of communication from the Core Team to the whole may be in recruiting interested volunteers to run point on and self-organise portions of the retreat agenda that particularly speak to them.

As the Core Team increasingly takes ownership of the coordination of retreats, our roles as external facilitator change. Events become more-and-more staff-led by emerging internal facilitators, and flourishing local leadership. We, as one of our Core Team members puts it, morph into “guardians”:

Facilitators are not leading or directing us, but guiding and reminding us what our values are, and what our participants are expecting of us. Guardianship is essential otherwise we may forget what we are doing, and why we are doing what we do.”


Ezelle Theunissen is a community psychologist and coach supporting individuals, teams and organisations align their values, strengths and unique lived experiences towards making a meaningful difference in the world. Social and environmental justice are close to her heart and she favours whole systems and person-centred approaches.

An Offer from the Center for Appreciative Inquiry

How has the COVID era affected your team spirit and organizational culture? Do you need time to “Zoom out”?

We specialise in customising all-staff retreats in collaboration with an in-house Core Team. These retreats are fun, restorative, meaningful and inclusive, and capitalize on your organisation’s diverse and unique strengths.

If you’re a leader seeking new opportunities for your team to engage in on-going learning, dialogue and Appreciative Inquiry, AND we’ve sparked your curiosity, please contact us.

The Evolution of Core Teams

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