The Ideal Team Player

By Patrick Lencioni

It is always a significant occasion when Patrick Lencioni writes a new book.  Lencioni, along with Jim Collins, is perhaps one of the two most insightful writers today on leadership and organizational health.  A former Bain consultant who now has his own organization called The Table Group, he has impacted millions through his writings.  This book is about how you find and develop team players.

Lancioni writes that the most valuable quality a person needs to develop in the world of work is how to be a team player.  He then argues that the three essential traits for team players are humble, hungry and smart.  The key issue is how he defines these three terms.  He writes this book in the form of a fable, a true-life story that is quite interesting.  His fables are always good reading.  And then he follows with a final 50 pages explaining the fable in more detail.

He argues that humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.  Here are the questions to determine if someone is humble.

Does he genuinely compliment or praise teammates without hesitation?

Does she easily admit when she makes a mistake?

Is he willing to take on lower-level work for the good of the team?

Does she gladly share credit for team accomplishments?

Does he readily acknowledge his weaknesses?

Does she offer and receive apologies graciously?

The second key trait is hungry.  He says that hungry people almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder, because they are self-motivated and diligent.  Here are the questions to determine if someone is hungry.

Does he do more than what is required in his own job?

Does she have passion for the “mission” of the team?

Does he feel a sense of personal responsibility for the success of the team?

Is she willing to contribute to and think about work outside of office hours?

Is he willing and eager to take on tedious and challenging tasks whenever necessary?

Does she look for opportunities to contribute outside her area of responsibility?

The word smart can be confusing.  He is not talking about IQ here, but more about emotional intelligence, or people intelligence.  He’s talking about being smart in how you deal with people.  It basically refers to a person’s common sense about people.  Here are the questions to determine if someone is smart about people.

Does he seem to know what teammates are feeling during meetings and interactions?

Does she show empathy to others on the team?

Does he demonstrate an interest in the lives of teammates?

Is she an attentive listener?

Is he aware of how his words and actions impact others on the team?

Is she good at adjusting her behavior and style to fit the nature of a conversation or relationship?

He then describes why you need all three traits, and how problems will arise if you only have two of the three traits.  And how disaster might arise if you only have one or none of the traits.  He talks about how these three traits affect hiring, how you develop these three traits more in your current employees, and how you embed these three values in your organizational culture.

Finally, he connects The Ideal Team Player with his well-known book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  They go hand in glove.  The Five Dysfunctions focuses on how a group must interact to become a cohesive team, centering in on the essential nature of trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results.

By contrast, this book focuses more on the individual team member and the traits that make him or her more likely to overcome the dysfunctions that derail teams.

The book is superb.  It is exceedingly practical and relevant.  It is a fascinating read.  However, here is a warning:  Patrick Lencioni is a Christian and I imagine a devout Christian, but he does use earthy language at times in the fable, perhaps to reflect the workplace today.