Do you know the qualities individuals need to be an ideal team player? According to best-selling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Patrick Lencioni, most business leaders know being a team player is incredibly important. Nevertheless, they’re unable to identify the exact characteristics that allow someone to positively influence team dynamics. It is this lack of knowledge that makes the ideal team player a rarity in most organizations. As a result, teams that lack ideal team players become dysfunctional, ineffective, unproductive, and even volatile.
Lencioni’s book The Ideal Team Player solves this problem by pointing out the three key qualities a person needs to be an integral part of an effective team: humility, hunger, and intelligence. In addition to this, he teaches leaders how to build team players when an employee is lacking one or two of these critical qualities.
Below, check out a breakdown of Lencioni’s three virtues of an ideal team player and learn how to grow these characteristics among your team members.
Table of Contents
The Three Virtues of a Team Player
Using his traditional form of storytelling through fable, Lencioni explains true ideal team players must be humble, hungry, and smart. When organizations have team players with these characteristics, members feel an increase in trust, conflict resolution, commitment, accountability, and results. Because of this, companies that hire and grow team players will more likely accomplish the business’s mission and experience success because employees are in an environment where team culture thrives. The qualities listed develop over time, meaning they aren’t simply achieved. It’s something dedicated team players will constantly work to maintain, most commonly under the direction of their leaders.
The first trait of an ideal team player is humility. Lencioni defines humility using a C.S. Lewis quote: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Of all the qualities, the author says this is “the most indispensable attribute of being a team player.” Rather than vying with others for attention and recognition, humble people focus on what will best serve the team. Additionally, they’d rather focus on how the team worked together to achieve a goal. Lencioni explains, “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.”
When a person has humility, they:
- Don’t boast or show an excessive amount of pride in accomplishments
- Look for opportunities to shine the light on others’ achievements
- Think with a group mentality when it comes to success
- Remove themselves from being the center of the conversation
- Receive recognition without pandering for more attention
The next virtue Lencioni discusses is hunger. When a person is hungry to learn, succeed, and serve, it is obvious. Their passion, drive, dedication, and desire to become better are visible to leaders and other team members. Hunger stems from within—it is a form of self-motivation that compels people to keep growing and improving over time. Instead of resting upon their laurels, hungry people feel the internal need to keep leveling up. They are always progressing toward reaching their full potential. “Hungry people are always looking for more” and “almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent,” he writes.
Team members who are hungry:
- Strive for excellence in everything they do
- Take the lead without being asked
- Aren’t only satisfied with past accomplishments
- Carry their weight and hate the idea of letting the team down
- Ask how they can improve and grow
- Seek mentorship and learning opportunities
Finally, Lencioni says ideal team players are smart. When describing what he means by this, he says being “smart” on a team isn’t about who is the most “book smart.” His definition revolves more around emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. For instance, he writes, “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.” In essence, team members who aren’t “people smart” cannot be ideal team players because they aren’t aware of how to positively interact with others.
Team players who are smart in the way Lencioni says is important:
- Focus on increasing their emotional intelligence
- Have a growth mindset that pursues learning opportunities
- Show self-awareness and social awareness when working with others
- Consider how their words, actions, and behaviors affect the group
- Seek to positively influence team members instead of clamoring for authority
Understanding the Various Work Personas
Lencioni says more often than not team members show weakness in one or two of these three categories. He suggests that when a person lacks specific qualities, it results in a distinct, and easily recognizable work persona. Knowing these different personas can help leaders identify them in employees and potential hires. Doing so can help employers better determine whether a job candidate can grow into an ideal team player and be a successful hire. Additionally, recognizing where current team members need to develop is important in building a strong team culture.
Team Players Who Lack Two or More Qualities
Those who need a significant amount of development have one or none of the three qualities of ideal team players. When it comes to hiring, understand these people will need more coaching and training. Unless you’re willing to put in the necessary time and effort, it’s best to not add people who lack one or two of the necessary qualities to a powerful team. If you already have a team member who falls under one of these personas, keep reading for a list of strategies in growing the three various virtues.
Humble Only: The Pawn
Lencioni calls people who are only humble, “The Pawn.” Because they lack hunger and smarts, they’re easily malleable and manipulated. They lack initiative and need to be told what to do. In the game of chess, a pawn is the least valuable piece on the board. This is a representation of how they are viewed on teams. While they don’t stir the pot or cause conflict, they also don’t feed into a collaborative team environment. Ultimately, they’re the person who stays quiet and rarely contributes but is fine with being assigned work.
Hungry Only: The Bulldozer
Those who are only hungry are deemed bulldozers. While bulldozers are designed to make way for new development, they’re also destructive. When people lack humility and smarts their egos end up plowing over everything in their path because they don’t understand team dynamics. Sure, they might get things done, but at what expense? People with this persona are typically everyone’s least favorite team member. They’re obnoxious, they need to be right, act without thinking, and warrant a lot of damage control.
Smart Only: The Charmer
When a person is only emotionally intelligent, they’re called charmers. While they provide a source of entertainment and can be a joy to be around, they’re not reliable. Because they lack humility and hunger, they’ll often think they’re “too good” to take on certain jobs and leave other team members in a bind. Being the life of the party or a source of emotional support is their forte. Nevertheless, they wind up irritating and frustrating employees with a poor work ethic and need for attention.
Group Members Who Need to Improve One Virtue
Finding team members who are well versed in all the virtues is rare. More than likely, hired team players have a natural aptitude for two of the skills. Yet, they lack one of the characteristics because they aren’t aware of what qualities they should be growing. If you identify a few recognizable personas, know these types of team members are easier to grow into ideal team players. They just need more awareness about where they need to grow and how.
Humble and Hungry: The Accidental Mess Maker
Lencioni labels people who are humble and hungry as accidental mess makers. With this persona, team members will respect how motivated they are. They mean well, and sincerely care about fulfilling the company’s mission and serving others. But, how they go about this isn’t always wise. They’re the classic “think before you speak” type, which can negatively affect interpersonal relationships in the business. Gaining more emotional intelligence is a must in order for them to develop into true team players.
Hungry and Smart: The Skillful Politician
The skillful politician persona lacks humility but excels in hunger and smarts. Unfortunately, the source of their drive is self-serving. If they work hard, it isn’t on behalf of the team or customers. It’s because somewhere along the line, they’ve learned to be valued for what they can achieve. It is this recognition and acknowledgment they seek. They negatively impact team dynamics due to their competitiveness: They want to be considered the MVP. Ultimately, they need to get out of their fixed mindset and learn that serving on a team isn’t about winning a trophy.
Humble and Smart: The Lovable Slacker
Finally, the loveable slacker persona has all the interpersonal qualities needed for being a team player. Yet, they lack drive. Typically, this person is well-liked by co-workers and leaders. They’re great at fostering healthy relationships, but they present a problem when goals must be met. For example, they might consistently ask to extend deadlines or do the bare minimum of their job function. In order to get serious about being an ideal team player, they must connect with a source of internal motivation.
Strategies for Growing into an Ideal Team Player
Consistent development in the three virtues is the key to creating ideal team players. Providing mentorship opportunities, reviewing leadership books together, recognizing areas of growth, and discussing places where more is required are all strategies leaders can use to help improve team dynamics. When working on specific qualities, check out the suggestions listed below.
Deep-rooted insecurities cause the hunt for constant validation and approval, thus the need to boast. Ask employees struggling with this quality about their fears. Get to the heart of what is making them trample on or bypass the recognition of others. Are they afraid they’ll become less visible if someone else shines? Why does this matter? Keep asking “why” until you figure out the root of the issue. Listen, be supportive, and help the person work through the problems causing their behavior.
Another way to strengthen humility is by modeling it. As a leader, you need to demonstrate qualities you do value and want to see more of. Show your team what it is like to serve with a humble heart—teach them servant leadership. Let it be known this attitude is the status quo of your organization.
Employees without passion and hunger aren’t happy ones. People want a purpose. One of the best ways to boost a person’s hunger is to align their purpose with the organization’s purpose. What made them join the company? Who did they hope to serve? Where is the disconnect? What will help them feel their work has meaning? Maybe they once had a purpose, but they’re experiencing burnout.
Another way to increase hunger is by providing more clarity. To feel excited about work, team members need a source of direction, inspiration, and motivation from their leaders. Explain your vision and discuss how it correlates to each person’s purpose. Use a project management system to assign tasks. This helps to give employees an exciting, purpose-driven mission that they can successfully execute on behalf of the business.
A person’s emotional quotient (EQ), measured by their emotional intelligence (EI), can grow over time. This requires work in four specific quadrants: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management. To help employees increase their EI, acknowledge the exact area they need to grow in. Be honest and let them know how it impacts the team. For instance, this might look like saying, “It’s become noticeable in meetings that you’re quick to make sarcastic comments when you feel like someone disagrees with you. This has caused a rift with some team members. For this reason, it’s something we need to work on to keep a healthy work environment.”
Work one-on-one with employees who struggle with interpersonal skills. Let them know appropriate courses of action and how you, as a leader, would navigate these situations. In addition, there are plenty of resources online and in-person for growing emotional intelligence. This includes online courses, books, podcasts, conferences, and videos.
Allot an hour or two each week for education on any of the missing qualities. At the beginning of team meetings, have individuals share what they’ve learned. This encourages the team to grow together, rather than pursuing growth in isolation.
Maintaining a Culture of Ideal Team Players
Lencioni wrote The Ideal Team Player to help leaders learn how to create effective teams by focusing on the three virtues every individual team member needs to eliminate dysfunction. Growing these qualities begins during the hiring process. Start by asking pointed, direct questions that gauge a person’s ability to be humble, hungry, and smart. For instance, a great interview question on humility might look like, “What role does recognition and acknowledgment play on a team?” Look for an answer that shows they’re thinking about what it means for team members, rather than themselves. In addition to this, spend time asking specific questions around each virtue when discussing the candidate with their references.
In addition to this, create an environment where being a team player is an organizational requirement. Write it into your business’s values. Introduce the three virtues during onboarding, explain what they mean, and set expectations for ensuring people grow in these areas. Recognize when individuals show humility, hunger, and smarts. Point out why they serve as a great example of the type of behavior essential to strong team dynamics. For those who violate the three virtues—hold them accountable. Explain why it’s important they meet company values. It is time well spent to teach a team what these qualities look like in action.
Interested in more tips for building a strong team culture and growing top leadership qualities?