Each year, our firm receives cold calls from businesses around the globe requesting subject-specific training and development programs. We keep tabs to see if there are trends in development needs. Past themes include emotional intelligence, change management, mindfulness and resiliency. This year, the trend is clear: collaboration.

Businesses demand that their leaders work across boundaries, share ideas and communicate effectively to arrive at the best decisions. Clearly, from the inbounds we’ve been receiving, collaboration doesn’t happen naturally. The greatest barrier to it, though, is something that’s difficult to acquire and impossible to manufacture: time.


This was apparent in a course I delivered recently on design thinking, where the instruction was focused on how to conduct an effective brainstorm session, improve thinking quality and implement a process for creative problem-solving. Important stuff, right? I’d argue it’s the most important “stuff” that businesses have to spend time on. The group I was working with valued the concept and understood the material, yet they kept pushing back on how they were going to use design thinking concepts, let alone the process, because it took too much time.

This experience made me wonder: What is the consequence when professionals don’t feel they have the time to bring their best thinking to the table, or work with their colleagues to share ideas? My immediate answer was that businesses solve the wrong problems, waste resources by working in silos and run the risk of being tactical, not strategic. As Sun Tzu said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

If this sounds like you, if you’re too busy to collaborate, then let me be the one to sound the alarm.

We work in a knowledge economy, where the best ideas aren’t incubated by one lone leader trapped in an ivory tower. In this world, we need the best minds engaged in thinking work. Sure, we need doers, too. Yet for organizations to thrive, we can’t prioritize doing over thinking.

As a leader, you have two responsibilities to address this collaboration challenge. First, make the time to develop your critical thinking skills. Start saying “no” to busy work and “yes” to behaviors like the following that help you improve your thinking quality:

  • Not just articles, but books – literature. Search for challenging works that expand your mind.
  • Take time to capture your thoughts. When you write creatively, you force yourself to think, and the result can be powerful and clarifying.
  • Aha” ideas happen during periods of reflection. Walking improves creative output.
  • Plan white space your calendar. You’re not a machine. You can’t have back-to-back meetings and expect to be creative (let alone effective). Carve space into your calendar when you can read, think and write.

All these activities will ensure that when there’s a thinking challenge in your environment (which there always is), you’ll be prepared to collaborate.

The second thing you must do, though, to improve collaboration is to force it. Collaboration will not happen on its own. It takes leadership to initiate and inspire dialogue as well as hold people accountable to it. When you’re confronted by a challenge where you could use additional brainpower, don’t be shy; request a meeting. Think about the diverse minds around you who can help you solve the problem, and invite them to the table.