Book: The Ideal Team Player

The Goal of This Post

This post is a synthesis from the book The Ideal Team Player, by Patrick Lencioni.
The author packs an insightful story on the individual qualities and virtues that make an individual team member likely and capable to overcome conflict dysfunctions and build strong and high-performing teams. I hope you enjoy it!

If You Only Takeway One Thing

“Leaders who can identify, hire, and cultivate employees who are humble, hungry, and smart will have a serious advantage over those who cannot. They’ll be able to build stronger teams much more quickly and with much less difficulty, and they’ll significantly reduce the painful and tangible costs associated with politics, turnover, and morale problems. And employees who can embody these virtues will make themselves more valuable and marketable to any organization that values teamwork.” – Patrick Lencioni


Some of the key ideas we’ll explore in this post:

  1. The Three Virtues
  2. The Ideal Team Player Model
  3. Interviewing
  4. Assessing
  5. Building Culture

1. Defining the Three Virtues

“Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually.”

“Hungry people are always looking for more. More things to do. More to learn. More responsibility to take on. Hungry people almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent. They are constantly thinking about the next step and the next opportunity”.

“Smart simply refers to a person’s common sense about people. It has everything to do with the ability to be interpersonally appropriate and aware. Smart people tend to know what is happening in a group situation and how to deal with others in the most effective way. They ask good questions, listen to what others are saying, and stay engaged in conversations intently.”

2. The Ideal Team Player Model

The following diagram shows how an individual’s unique combination of skills and virtues can fall into distinct categories:

Photo Credit: How to create the ‘Ideal Team Player.’

When an individual possesses 1 for 3 Virtues?

  • Humble Only: The Pawn
    “Pleasant, kind-hearted, unassuming people who just don’t feel a great need to get things down and don’t have the ability to build effective relationships with colleagues”.
  • Hungry Only: The Bulldozer
    “These people will be determined to get things done, but with a focus on their own interests and with no understanding or concern for how their actions impact others”.
  • Smart Only: The Charmer
    “They can be entertaining and even likable for a while, but have little interest in the long-term well-being of the team or their colleagues.”

When an individual possesses 2 for 3 Virtues?

  • Humble and Hungry: The Accidental Mess-Maker
    “They genuinely want to serve the team and are not interested in getting a disproportionate amount of attention and credit. However, their lack of understanding of how their words and actions are received by others will lead them to inadvertently create interpersonal problems on the team.”
  • Humble and Smart: The Loveable Slacker
    “They aren’t looking for underserved attention, and they are adept at working with and caring about colleagues. Unfortunately, they tend to do only as much as they are asked, and rarely seek to take on more work or volunteer for extra assignments. Moreover, they have limited passion for the work the team is doing”.
  • Hungry and Smart: The Skillful Politician
    “These people are cleverly ambitious and willing to work extremely hard, but only in as much as it will benefit them personally. Unfortunately, because they are so smart, skillful politicians are very adept at portraying themselves as being humble, making it hard for leaders to identify them and address their destructive behaviors.”

3. Interviewing the Ideal Team Player

Interview for these qualities when evaluating new hires in your interview process:

Hiring for Humble

  • “Tell me about the most important accomplishments of your career”.
  • “What was the most embarrassing moment in your career? Or the biggest failure?”
  • “How do you handle apologies, either giving or accepting them?”

Hiring for Hungry

  • “What is the hardest thing you’ve ever worked on something in your life?”
  • “What do you like to do when you’re not working?”
  • “Did you work hard when you were a teenager? How did you develop your work ethic?”

Hiring for Smart

  • “How would you describe your personality?”
  • “What do you do that others in your personal life might find annoying?”
  • “Can you give me an example of how you’ve demonstrated empathy to a teammate?”

4. Assessing the Ideal Team Player

Managers can you use key questions to assess existing employees on these virtues:

Assessing for Humble

  • Does he genuinely compliment or praise teammates without hesitation?
  • Does she easily admit when she makes a mistake?
  • Does he readily acknowledge his weaknesses?

Assessing for Hungry

  • Does he do more than what is required in his own job?
  • Does she have passion for the “mission” of the tema?
  • Does he feel a sense of personal responsibility for the overall success of the team?

Assessing for Smart

  • Does she seem to know what teammates are feeling during meetings and interactions?
  • Is she aware of how her words and actions impact others on the team?
  • Is she good at adjusting her behavior to fit the nature of a good conversation or relationship?

5. Organizational Culture

A couple techniques Leaders can use to embed these values throughout the team culture:

1. Be Explicit and Bold.

  • “Leaders who believe teamwork is important and expect their people to be humble, hungry, and smart should come right out and say so. They should tell everyone. Employees. Vendors. Partners. Customers. Prospective customers. Prospective employees. Everyone”

2. Catch and Revere.

  • “Leaders who want to create a culture of humility, hunger and people smarts in their organization should be constantly on the lookout for any displays of those virtues. And when they see those displays, they should hold them up as examples to see”

3. Detect and Address.

  • “Whenever you see a behavior that violates one of the values, take the time to let the violator know that his behavior is out of line…. Great cultures tend to be appropriately intolerant of certain behaviors, and great teams should be quick and tactful in addressing any lack of humility, hunger, and people smarts.”

In Summary

“What makes humble, hungry, and smart powerful and unique is not the individual attributes themselves, but rather the required combination of all three”.

The Three Virtues Combined: Humble, Hungry, Smart
“They have little ego when it comes to needing attention or credit for their contributions, and they are comfortable sharing their accolades or even occasionally missing out on them. Ideal team players work with a sense of energy, passion, and personal responsibility, taking on whatever they possibly can for the good of the team. Finally, they say and do the right things to help teammates feel appreciated, understood, and included, even when difficult situations arise that require tough love.”

The book focuses on the virtues that make an individual team member capable to contribute to their team in a way that builds trust, fosters productive conflict and accountability, as well as driving commitments and results. Short read, highly recommended!

All content credit goes to the author. I’ve shared the bits I’ve enjoyed the most and found most useful.

Cheers ’till next time! Saludos!


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