An Exercise in Collaboration

Here is an exercise I use to measure the degree of collaboration that exists within a leadership team when I join a new company.

I call an executive planning session. I ask each executive to identify the top three things they think we need to work on in the coming year, ( before the meeting).

At the meeting I pass out 3×5 Post-Its and ask them to write one of their top three on each of the Post-It’s, before revealing them to anyone else. Use BIG letters.

I ask one executive to tell us what each of their top three are and stick them horizontally on the wall. Then the next executive does the same, if one of their top three is the same as one already on the wall then place it underneath the matching Post-It.

When we are all through we will have a collated list of everyone’s top threes. Typically there are at least a dozen items, sometimes twenty or more.

Then I tell them we only have enough resources to fix three things this year. The exercise now is to decide two things,

  1. Which three things are the top priorities to the organization?
  2. Which of the things will we agree to leave alone for now?

The answer to the first will be decided by the group. After all they likely know better than me since I’ve just joined them. My interest is seeing how well they work with each other. Plus an answer they come up with will likely have more of their commitment than ones I pick.

The faster they come to consensus the more experience they likely have with collaboration. The longer It takes, the less experience they have with this type of decision making.

The answer to the second question is everything else. When the group selects the top three all the available resources are allocated, and they are also agreeing to leave everything else alone. Agreement and commitment to this question is as important as the answer to the first.

As you might expect, this exercise becomes part of our annual planning sessions. Year by year there are fewer unique issues to choose from, and it takes less time to come to agreement. I suspect this is because the executives meet on their own before our session – and isn’t that really the point?


“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction,
you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time,”

– Patrick Lencioni


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