Becoming an Ideal Team Player
The 3 things you must be to succeed in the 21st century workplace.
It’s very rare to find a book that is as practical as it is compelling, but The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni manages to convey simple truths about teamwork that feel familiar yet groundbreaking. Lencioni is able to accomplish this feat through a carefully crafted narrative, which introduces a framework for identifying, hiring, or developing ideal team players without feeling like a bulleted list of do’s and don’ts that many books on leadership and teamwork tend to read as.
Consider this article an overview of this framework; For a deeper understanding and for a fully introspective experience, consider taking time to read the book. It’s quite the page-turner for a book about team-building.
Enough of the praise. Below is a diagram that encapsulates Lencioni’s framework. What does it mean, and how can it help you succeed in the 21st century workplace?
The Three Characteristics of an Ideal Team Player
Lencioni proposes that there are three characteristics that define every single human being’s ability to succeed in a team: Hunger, Smarts, and Humility. Let’s define what the presence or absence of these characteristics says about you:
People that are hungry are workaholics, but not simply for the sake of working. Hungry individuals are highly motivated, have a clear vision, and go above and beyond in accomplishing what needs to be done (and more) in making that vision a reality. People that are hungry don’t need to be told to do something because they actively seek out problems and solve them.
Individuals that lack hunger aren’t simply lazy. In fact, people that lack hunger can often accomplish tasks reasonably. The primary characteristic of those that lack hunger is a lack of passion and inability to see the big picture. These individuals might get work done when told, but rarely if ever seek out problems on their own and are the kind to quit when the going gets tough.
Being smart is the most misunderstood of the three characteristics. “Smarts”, in the context of the ideal team player, refers to “People-Smarts”. Smart people pick up on social queues that others don’t, more easily empathize with others, and are more capable of understanding the needs of other and acting accordingly. Smart individuals build stronger relationships with teammates because they understand intricacies in conversation that “less-smart” individuals do not. Generally speaking, smart people are a pleasure to be around and are well liked by their peers.
Those that aren’t smart tend to be awkward and/or destructive in building relationships. These individuals have more difficulty communicating with others and they generally have trouble understanding the needs and wants of their coworkers outside of day-to-day responsibilities in the workplace. Ultimately, these team players tend to cause personal, people-problems at the office due to their general inability to pick up on the repercussions of their behavior.
The third — and arguably most important — of the three characteristics is obvious yet critical. Humble people build their team members up by sharing in successes and taking responsibility when appropriate for failures. Having humility means lacking an excessive ego and not concerning oneself with status, and humble individuals are quick to praise and slow to seek praise. Success is collective.
Lacking humility, on the contrary, means broadcasting personal achievements and downplaying the contributions of others. Those that are not humble tend to take on responsibilities with the primary purpose of boosting their own self esteem, and they lack an awareness of the efforts of their team. It can be especially dangerous when an individual lacks humility and acts on personal greed while putting on a facade of caring about the team’s success.
Obviously, in practice, these characteristics are not black and white. In fact, it turns out that each of the characteristics can be measured on a scale, with a person’s level of hunger, smarts, and humility able to be plotted on a simple Venn diagram. Take a second look at the picture above:
The ideal team player is a perfect composition of each of the three characteristics. As such, being extremely hungry but not very humble and not very smart would classify you as a Bulldozer, and being hungry and humble but not very smart would classify you as an Accidental Mess-maker.
Consider, for a moment, your own strengths and weaknesses. Are you selfless and like-able but not motivated? Are you a gritty, hard-worker who’s well liked but often let your ego get the best of you? Try to plot your team-player makeup on the diagram and attempt to classify yourself.
Got it? Great. Here’s what you need to know based on where your team player makeup falls on the diagram:
These individuals have good intentions, but their lack of social understanding leads them to create accidental people-problems. You might find yourself saying about these individuals: “If you only knew him… he’s a nice guy”.
Everything is about them. With little care for more than their own success and with an inability to thrive socially, these individuals can accomplish a lot but at the expense of those around them.
Arguably the most toxic team member. These individuals are well liked and work hard, and are therefore good at making people think they’re humble, but they often hurt others without knowing it by acting selfishly. These are the people everyone secretly despises but whom manage to remain liked publicly.
These individuals know how to appease others, but ultimately aren’t motivated and act in their own self-interest. It’s generally not hard to spot them because they don’t care about the team’s performance and work accordingly.
These individuals do just enough work and maintain enough personal relationships to stick around. Lovable Slackers are hard to weed out of an organization because you tend to care about them a little more than you should.
Also known as pawns… Don’t hire these people. These individuals stand on the sideline and mind their own business while the rest of the team is busy working.
Ideal Team Player
The holy grail. The perfect combination of hunger, smarts, and humility. They work hard, have clearly defined goals, are well liked, and care about the needs and wants of those they work with. These individuals are servant leaders, putting in extra hours and going the extra mile to help teammates while praising the efforts of others and downplaying their own achievements. Ideal team players are a pleasure to be around, and you can’t help but follow their lead because they earn your respect and trust with ease.
That’s it! Again, this was just a general overview of the framework Lencioni describes in detail in his book, The Ideal Team Player. You’d be doing yourself a disservice not to read the compelling narrative that accompanies the lessons Lencioni teaches about teamwork.