Bryan J. Smith introduced his Tell—Sell—Test—Consult—Co-create model in 1994, in the Building Shared Vision section of The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook:

Bryan Smith's original Tell—Sell—Test—Consult—Co-create model from Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (redrawn)

Image source: The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies for Building a Learning Organization, by Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross and Bryan J. Smith.
Although no credit is given, the model is clearly inspired by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H. Schmidt’s classic 1958 Harvard Business Review paper, How to choose a leadership pattern.

Here is my elaborated version of the model, which contradicts the popular belief that engagement is synonymous with co-creation:

Tell—Sell—Test—Consult—Co-create model, elaborated by Jack Martin Leith

The five approaches


What the manager does: Gives an instruction.

“This is the plan. Get going.”


What the manager does: Seeks buy-in.

“This is the plan, the benefits of which are as follows …”

Telling and Selling will be used to introduce whatever decisions were made as a result of any Testing and Consulting work carried out previously.


What the manager does: Invites response.

“This is the plan. Tell me what you think about it and I will consider incorporating your ideas.”


What the manager does: Requests assistance.

“Please help me create the plan.”


What the manager does: Collaborates.

“We’ve got a blank sheet of paper. Let’s create the plan together.”

This is likely to be the most effective method to adopt when initiating a project.

In the old hierarchical model you could just tell people what the vision was. That won’t work now. We have to create a platform that is meaningful for each person. Leaders can’t do it alone. They must do it in collaboration with their leadership team, and if they’re doing it really well, with the entire organization. The vision has to be collaboratively created and open in its architecture so people can connect with it.

Doug Conant, former President and CEO, Campbell Soup | view source

Co‑creation or collaboration?

Until recently I talked about co‑creation rather than collaboration, for the following reasons:

1. Co-creation suggests that people work together on the project from inception to completion. They are not invited or co‑opted to help implement someone else’s plan, which is often the case with a collaborative project.

2. Co-creation is a coherent set of principles, methods and tools, whereas collaboration is a nebulous concept consisting mostly of motherhood and apple pie statements (“We must work together with stakeholders” etc.), sensible team working practices that date back to the 1980s, and technology that may hinder as much as it helps.

See for example: How Structured Project Management Software Blocks Collaboration, by Scott R. Schreiman, on Medium, and this:

Many years ago I made the following statement — “The individual is the new group” — and the tools that we see arising today start there, focusing on what Cal Newport, the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, calls ‘deep work’:
“Deep Work: Cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.”
He contrasts that with ‘shallow work’:
“Shallow Work: Tasks that almost anyone, with a minimum of training, could accomplish (e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media, and so on).”
I maintain that much of what social collaboration tools are designed to support is shallow work, and the stuff of managerial oversight.

Source: Understanding the failed promise of ‘social collaboration’, by Stowe Boyd, on Gigaom website.
3. Co-creation indicates that people are doing creative work — they are bringing into being something that did not exist previously.

4. We can say something was co‑created, but we cannot say it was collaborated.

5. For those Europeans who were alive during the Second World War, collaboration continues to mean “the act of cooperating traitorously with an enemy that is occupying your country”. This is why the word was taboo in the United Kingdom until quite recently. We must thank the people of the USA for its rehabilitation.

But despite those very good reasons for stubbornly sticking with the term co-creation for almost 25 years, I now recognise that the world at large talks about collaboration, and so I have decided to follow the herd, except in those cases where co-create is the only word that works in a sentence, as per item 4.

In view of this change of heart, the set of principles previously named Rich Co‑creation has been renamed rich collaboration (no capitals).

Read more about rich collaboration

Further reading

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies for Building a Learning Organization, by Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross and Bryan Smith

More recommendations coming soon.