The habits of CEO success:

are you solving the very problems your team should be solving?


Published on: June 2019

Written by: Suzanne Bates

The CEO of a hospital system was working on a complex financing deal to purchase a large parcel of land, build, and launch a new center.

The process was taking up a large part of his time, and he was stretched thin. This was preventing him from working on a couple of other key CEO initiatives. I asked how his team was helping. “It’s really up to me,” he replied. “I understand this stuff better than anyone.”

As we talked further, I learned that he respected and trusted all the members of his team. He simply didn’t think of them as ready to “grapple with complex enterprise issues.”  “Some of them just don’t have the background or inclination to add value on this,” he said, to which I replied, “What could you accomplish if they did?”

Building a team that solves problems begins with the mindset of the leader

One of the greatest impediments to your success as a leader is holding on to the belief that the team is limited in its capacity or capability. You may be surprised. Examine the belief that your team can’t do it, doesn’t want to do it, or doesn’t have time. Great leaders want the challenge.

Leadership is a team sport. Your job is to get things done through others. Develop a team that is pulling with you to drive enterprise outcomes. Embrace the idea that solving problems together is what your team can and must do.

Whether your team has been together for a long time, or you are forming a new team, or adding new team members, the time is right to set expectations. Let them know that their success is measured not only by how well they lead their own businesses or functions, but also what they contribute to the whole. Sharing this expectation unleashes creative energy for them to contribute in important ways.

Your team is exponentially more valuable to you, and to the organization, when you harness their genius as a unit collectively, they are far smarter than they are as individuals. Challenge them to work as one on the most challenging aspects of the business and see what they can do to change the game.

We’ve worked with teams for decades, and we have seen it’s nearly impossible to accelerate growth and drive strategic outcomes without a team that makes decisions together and owns outcomes at the enterprise level.

9 simple steps to develop your team’s problem-solving know-how

To build a problem-solving, high performing team, here are 9 steps:

  1. Begin by setting a new purpose for your team meetings. They must be more than time blocked out on a calendar to sit together and report out on individual initiatives.
  2. Do the homework before the meeting. Every agenda item probably requires some background, so people can read and come prepared. Encourage team members to share information on decisions that should be made, or advice they are soliciting on their projects and initiatives.
  3. Clarify the problems to solve, together. Clarity about the problem and impact is essential before you begin the conversation. This liberates the team to look at shared solutions. Generate a list of criteria for the solution to avoid having team members fight for their own ideas. Discuss the merits of proposals and agree on a course of action.
  4. Make sure everyone has a voice. All must be invited to debate the issues. Some people need to be nudged. Make it safe for everyone to participate and make sure people know there are no bad ideas. When everyone has a voice and options are considered you get buy-in and commitment to see the solution through.
  5. Challenge your team to open the aperture. Expect them to assess the impact of their decisions on everyone. Let them know you expect them to think at the enterprise level. The best of them will welcome the opportunity to learn and grow.
  6. Be patient as they learn to exercise new intellectual muscles. Remind them to be patient with themselves if they make a mistake. You’re not asking them to become experts at everything – you are challenging them to exercise their intellects. Their greatest value to one another and the organization is their ability to exercise critical thinking.
  7. Give them space to wrestle through complexity. The first time you do this will be painful, but as you move forward, a talented team will embrace the fullness of their responsibilities. Encourage them to mentor one another to get them up the learning curve more quickly.
  8. Let the team assess itself, as a team. They need to know not just what they can do as individuals, but how their collective strengths and gaps propel them forward and hold them back. Consider an assessment such as the LTPITM (Leadership Team Performance Index) to provide them with a snapshot of their strengths and gaps as a group.
  9. Coach them regularly on your expectations. Set goals for each member related to how they will perform as a member of a team, not just as an individual leader. Sit down during 1:1’s and carve out 20 minutes of the hour to discuss their performance as team members. Give them tough assignments that require them to stretch as team collaborators and give them feedback.

Developing a problem-solver team isn’t just a nice-to-have. A high performing team frees you to do what you and only you can do. Don’t miss the opportunity increase your own impact. And remember that developing others is part of your legacy.

For more information about how to build a great team, download our white paper on the science of high performing teams, and learn about the 15 qualities you can develop in your team.

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