Collegial Collaboration

How Playful Collegial Collaboration Works from Kids to Executives, With Marge Schiller- PS53

Episode Introduction

marge-schiller-768x575Marjorie Schiller, Ph.D., has been consulting, teaching and writing about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) since the late 1980's. Marge is passionate about bringing Appreciative Inquiry into all educational contexts, with a focus on lifelong learning to enrich diversity in all its guises. Embodiment is another of her passions – how we walk the talk.  She expands on these three topics among many others in this juicy, story-filled episode.

A beautiful invitation was posed by Marge Schiller early in this episode:

If we were to hold our work lightly, with a positive energy such as play, imagine how much further we can go with the things that we really care about

Episode Overview – Collegial Collaboration

Marge teaches and writes about Appreciative Leadership and AI in Action. Marge is the co-author of Appreciative Leaders: In the Eye of the Beholder (a Taos Institute Focus Book) and has written commentaries and book chapters about many subjects and applications of Appreciative Inquiry. Her current book in the making is a collegial collaboration across three generations.  As Marge playfully describes the collegial collaboration:  there are perspectives from  78 year old land, 30 year old and 10 year old land.  It’s a children’s book about Appreciative Inquiry, with a working title of “Stan and 4 Fantastic Powers” co-authored by her twin grandchildren, an educational psychologist and a gifted illustrator.

To the question about how she considers her relationship with AI, Marge responds with:

Collegial collaborator… a constant learner … a respecter…. a connector.

Learning from each other, through all our multiple perspectives through the relational process of collegial collaboration is highly important to Marge.

When I asked Marge what she valued about herself, she admitted she’s very good at starting things.  In her life across politics, the media, corporations, teaching and writing, she has started many initiatives that still live on and you can hear a number of these as you listen in to this episode.  This is where the collegial collaboration works.  You find people who are equally committed to bring the positive changes you believe in.  Marge recognizes it takes a lot of effort to start things, and we need each other to bring our diversity into projects to make them work successfully for everyone.

Marge makes a distinction between mentorship and “collegialship” – collegial collaboration.

Collegialships are intergenerational, and “generation” means many things.  It’s not just about age. It’s about perspectives, experiences, learnings, contributions, technologies, spirituality and more, with all their accompanying levels, stages, generations and memes of development. Mentorship is not collegial collaboration because mentorships are unequal in their construction.  Only in a collegial collaboration, are contributions from all perspectives valued in the sense that each person has something to offer through their own life experiences.  Appreciating diversity is key.


Marge is a wonderful storyteller, with a talent for connecting at many levels.  She connects concepts to make up brand new words, as in “collegialship” above and in the charming story below.

It’s a fun story that reveals the inner knowing of kids.   Briefly, when her son was 7, he observed that “daddy work works, and mommy play works.”  What her son was describing is that daddy didn’t like his work, but mommy loved her work. Hence the term “plerk” was coined (play +work).  By the way, daddy left his job at age 38 and mommy 40 years later is still “plerking.”

The most enjoyable part of this story is the context in which it occurred. Hint: Feminist TV show anchor, Marge was keen to show she could be both a feminist and a mommy.  It’s a treat. Ever since, Marge has made it her business to ‘‘plerk through life” and find collegial collaborators who also plerk.

Falling in Love with Appreciative Inquiry

Another great story is how Marge was introduced to Appreciative Inquiry. She was in a meeting at NTL (National Training Laboratory in Bethel, Maine) with about 20 others, including Jane McGruder Watkins (Former Chair of the Board NTL) and David Cooperrider – the “daddy of AI” as Marge refers to him.  This group emerged as the pioneers in the transformational change process known as Appreciative Inquiry and continue to plerk together in a variety of flexible configurations – collegial collaborations.

Not long after this meeting,  Marge brought David Cooperrider into her organization and her long relationship with and leadership in the AI community had begun.  One of the classic AI case studies is the work Marge, David, Jane  and others did at Avon Cosmetics in Mexico on the affirmative  topic of “Men and Working Working Together.”

How to Introduce Appreciative Inquiry to Others

Start small – our conversations make the difference.  Marge talks about “little ‘a’” and “little ‘i’” – small experiences.  The big AI summits are hugely energizing and organization transformation occurs, yet it’s the one-on-one conversations, the relational process that sustains the effort.   Another tip is to find the appreciative leaders  – those with the right mindset and who know the value of good stories. If you engage in talking only about problems, little baby problems emerge.  So those who value stories and diversity, have expansive mindsets and are open to creating innovations are more likely to be appreciative leaders than the leaders who believe they are the smartest in the room and want it to remain that way.  Those kinds of “all knowing” leaders and Appreciative Inquiry may not be a good fit, and can present challenges.

Tips for Honing your own Practice in Appreciative Inquiry

We talk about the good old apprenticeship model.  If you want to learn your craft, you hang out and practice with those who are doing it well already.  This is where the terms “plerking” and “collegial collaboration” are manifested.  In my early days as a newly certified AI practitioner, I did just that, volunteering for projects with David Cooperrider, Marge Schiller, Linsdey Godwin, Jackie Stavros and others.  We each bring our own strengths and diverse backgrounds and experiences to each project, all of us learning and contributing.  The most exciting thing about those experiences is not only the learning that happens, but the strengthening of lasting relationships.  It’s a give and get model of growth and development.

Embodiment of Appreciative Inquiry

This entire episode is full of great stories, strategies and tactics about Appreciative Inquiry, and we kind of saved the best to last.  It just happened.  When we talked about appreciative leaders, it was perfect to talk about embodiment.

To be an appreciative leader is to truly embody the principles – the guiding values and practices of AI. You embody AI when you walk the talk and you move into the spiritual realm. Valuing the true, the good, the beautiful of the wholeness of life, the interconnectedness of all things, the wonderment of our cosmos, listening with our hearts and minds open, respecting the dignity of all human beings is being AI.  It isn’t just what you do, it is who you are.

To embody AI is personal work. You go through your own personal AI experiences to walk the talk.  You check in with yourself, “how am I doing?”  How am I living the principles?  How am I impacting others?  What positive differences am I making?

Kids as Teachers

The image and voice of hope is children.

Marge’s shares the story of how this insight struck her when she witnessed the impact a 4 year old had on the employees in a neighboring building during the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11th 2001.

Thanks, Marge for the legacy you are creating!

Links to Marge Schiller

Marge's Website: Positive Change Core

LinkedIn: Marge Schiller 

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