The Ideal Team Player

"If someone were to ask me to make a list of the most valuable qualities a person should develop in order to thrive in the world of work—and for that matter, life—I would put being a team player at the top."

- The Ideal Team Player, page ix

Behind every great organization is an even better team.

This idea is inherent in everything that Patrick Lencioni does. The author of the classic The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is back with The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues, a sequel of sorts to the influential 2002 tome.

Like most of Lencioni’s books, The Ideal Team Player is presented as a fable. This type of a narrative is not only entertaining to read, but helps the material resonate better with the reader. The reader follows along as Jeff navigates his way through a new leadership position in an unfamiliar industry. He quickly realizes that if the organization is to succeed, Jeff and his colleagues must address its toxic workplace culture. They determine that each employee must personify the three virtues that are apparent in any ideal team player.

So, what are these three virtues that can transform your organization? Read on!

The Golden Egg

Golden Egg: The biggest takeaway from the book

Humble, hungry and smart

"For organizations seriously committed to making teamwork a cultural reality, I'm convinced that 'the right people' are the ones who have those three virtues in common--humility, hunger, and people smarts."
- The Ideal Team Player, page 155

To establish a culture that prioritizes team work, each member of the team must embody the virtues of humble, hungry and smart. But in order to recognize these attributes in ourselves and in others—and to make adjustments when we’re deficient in one or more areas—it’s critical to know how each of them are defined in Lencioni’s model.

Humble – This is the most important of 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 – “Hungry people are always looking for more,” writes Lencioni. “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. And they loathe the idea that they might be perceived as slackers.”

Smart – In this context we’re not referring to intelligence, but rather people smarts. “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.”

The following GEMs offer two ways to ensure that you’re recruiting individuals who embody the virtues of humble, hungry and smart during the all-important interview process.

Gem #1

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Turn the traditional interview on its head

"It is amazing that as we move further into the twenty-first century, most interviews are still the same stilted, rehearsed, and predictable conversations they were forty years ago."
- The Ideal Team Player, page 176

If you want to find an ideal team player who stands out from the pack, turn the traditional interview on its head.

“The problem is not that they are boring or old fashioned,” writes Lencioni of the traditional interview process, “but rather that they aren’t effective for discerning whether a person has the behavioural skills and values that match an organization or a team.”

Lencioni relates how he was once told that if you really want to gauge how a potential employee fares—and whether they embody the three virtues of hungry, humble and smart—you should take them on a business trip with you. That’s not feasible in most instances, but you can still achieve a similar result by seeing how the candidate behaves in a real life situation that lasts longer than the traditional 45 minute interview.

Why not run an errand or go for a drive with the candidate? The result here is that you see the potential team member in a less structured environment. In the fable, conducting a non-traditional interview after the standard structured one gave Jeff the opportunity to observe the way Ted, who was being considered for an important role, treated others. Spoiler alert: Jeff recognized that Ted didn’t possess the people smarts necessary to be an ideal team player—especially one in an important leadership position. But it was obvious to Ted that culture was an important part of the organization and that he wasn’t the right fit for a “jackass free zone” and removed himself from the running. Fortunately, in this instance, the jackass weeded himself out.

Gem #2

An actionable way to implement the BIG takeaway (Golden Egg) into your life

Do some real work

"The point is not get to get free work, but rather to see how people perform in real-world situations so you can discern whether they are humble, hungry, and smart."
- The Ideal Team Player, page 178-179

Lencioni suggests getting a prospective candidate to do “some real work” for you during the interview process to gauge whether they are humble, hungry and smart. Again, this is not an opportunity to take advantage of the candidate (we’re not advocating anything unethical here!) and you can’t do this in every role you’re hiring for (“A doctor can’t be asked to do surgery before being hired,” Lencioni reminds us), but when you can it’s very enlightening.

This is actually something we’ve done in the past here at Actionable Book. Last year, when we were hiring for a graphic designer role, a component of the application process included the creation of an infographic cover letter to demonstrate the candidate’s skills and whether their aesthetics aligned with the Actionable brand—and if they were up to the challenge, of course. We received many applications, but not many infographics. One candidate who did create one was Anna Schmöhe. Fast-forward almost a year and a half later and Anna is an integral part of the team. She possesses the virtues of hungry, humble and smart in spades.

Patrick Lencioni has done it again. The Ideal Team Player is an instant classic, and stands tall alongside his other efforts. He has expertly articulated the qualities that universally make a person an ideal team player. It’s a must read for all.

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Andy Budgell

ABOUT Andy Budgell

Andy is the Managing Editor & Community Liaison at Actionable Books. A graduate of the University of Waterloo's English Rhetoric and Literature program, Andy brings his considerable knowledge of social media to Actionable Books and complements the team with his distinct writing ability and award winning customer service...
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