The Ideal Team Player | Notes & Reflections

Posted on August 21, 2016


Patrick Lencioni. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues. Jossey-Bass, 2016. (219 pages)


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…you get more done with three people who fit together than with a fourth who doesn’t belong. (127)



Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. Thy 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. (157)

There are two basic types of people who lack humility, …the overtly arrogant …the people who lack self-confidence. (158)

A person who has a disproportionately deflated sense of self-worth often hurts teams by not advocating for their own ideas or by failing to call attention to problems that they see. Though this kind of lack of humility is less obtrusive and obvious than the other, more negative types, it detracts from optimal team performance nonetheless. (158)


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. And they loathe the idea that they might be perceived as slackers. (159)

[via: Hungry people will say things like, “I would do this job if you didn’t pay me.”]

When I refer to hunger here, I’m thinking about the healthy kind–a manageable and sustainable commitment to doing a job well and going above and beyond when it is truly required. (159)


[via: I may use the word “thoughtful” here.]

In the context of a team, smart simply refers to a person’s common sense about people. (160)


These are not permanent characteristics embedded in a person’s DNA; rather, they are developed and maintained through life experiences and personal choices at home and at work. (165)

modelHumble Only: The Pawn. Pawns don’t make waves, so they can survive for quite a long time on teams that value harmony and don’t demand performance. (167)

Hungry Only: The Bulldozer.

Smart Only: The Charmer.

Humble and Hungry, but Not Smart: The Accidental Mess-Maker.

Humble and Smart, but Not Hungry: The Lovable Slacker.

Hungry and Smart, but Not Humble: The Skillful Politician. Most of us have worked with plenty of skillful politicians, as they tend to rise in the ranks of companies where leaders reward individual performance over teamwork. (171)

WARNING: wrongly labeling a team member, even in private or jest, can be damaging. (172)

…the real purpose of identifying these types is not to pigeonhole people, but to better understand what constitutes ideal team players so we can recognize or develop them on our teams. (172)

Humble, Hungry, Smart: The Ideal Team Player. Ideal team players possess adequate measures or humility, hunger, and people smarts. 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 o 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. Most of us can recall having managed or worked with ideal team players in our careers, as they are quite appealing and memorable. (173)


Application #1: Hiring

The Interview Process

Don’t Be Generic. Too many interviews are so generic that they provide little or no insight into specific attributes. (175)

Consider Group Interviews.

Make Interviews Nontraditional. The problem is not that they are boring or old fashioned, but rather that they aren’t effective for discerning whether a person has the behavioral skills and values that match an organization or a team. (176)

Ask Questions More than Once.

Ask What Others Would Say.

Ask Candidates to Do Some Real Work.

Don’t Ignore Hunches.

Scare People with Sincerity. Many people will try to get a job even if they don’t fit the company’s stated values, but very few will do so if they know that they’re going to be held accountable, day in and day out, for behavior that violates the values. Of course, it’s important that you follow through on that commitment to the values in the rare occasion that a candidate calls the bluff. (180)

Interview Questions


  • “Tell me about the most important accomplishments of your career.”
  • “What was the most embarrassing moment in your career? Or the biggest failure?”
  • “How did you handle that embarrassment or failure?”
  • “What is your greatest weakness?”
  • “How do you handle apologies, either giving or accepting them?”
  • “Tell me about someone who is better than you in an area that really matters to you.”


  • “What is the hardest 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?”
  • “What kinds of hours do you generally work?”


  • “How would you describe your personality?”
  • “What do you do that others in your personal life might find annoying?”
  • “What kind of people annoy you the most, and how do you deal with them?”
  • “Would your former colleagues describe you as an empathetic person?” or “Can you give me an example of how you’ve demonstrated empathy to a teammate?”

Perhaps the most important question that interviewers can ask to ascertain whether a candidate is smart is one that they should ask themselves: Would I want to work with this person every day?” (184)

Candidate References

Put the Reference Provider at Ease

Look for Specifics

Focus on Areas of Doubt

Pay Attention to References Who Don’t Respond

Ask What Others Would Say?

Application #2: Assessing Current Employees

Manager Assessment


  • 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?


  • 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 overall 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 of her area of responsibility?


  • 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?

…remember, we’re looking for ideal team players, not adequate ones. (189)

Application #3: Developing Employees Who Are Lacking In One Or More Of The Virtues

…the solution is to constantly, repeatedly, kindly, constantly (yes, I said it twice) let the employee know that he’s got to get better. Trust me. (197)

Developing Humility. …insecurity is rooted in childhood and family issues that go way back beyond their first day on the job or the team. (198)

…employees can make progress simply by acting like they are humble. (200)

Developing Hunger. …it’s the hareest to change. (201)

The point here is that some people actually do seem to prefer a sense of detachment and routineness, and pouring into them is not going to yield significant returns. (202)

All too often, employees struggle to become hungry because they don’t understand the connection between what they do and the impact it has on others, be they customers, vendors, or other employees. (203)

Developing Smarts. …a deficiency in this area is not about intention. (206)

Application #4: Embedding The Model Into An Organization’s Culture

I believe that teamwork is not a virtue, but rather a choice. It’s a strategic decision and an intentional one, which means that it’s not for everyone. (207)

…the point of praise is not only to reinforce the behavior in that employee, but also to reinforce it in everyone else. (209)

[via: “You promote what you permit/platform.”]


…the ideal team player is all about the makeup of individual team members, while the five dysfunctions are about the dynamics of teams getting things done. (213)

— via reflections —

Lencioni continues to provide the clearest, most effective, most helpful and most memorable work when it comes to organizational theory. This is the latest (first?) example of that work. I have one thought, and one tension.

First, I would consider much of this concept to be summarized in the word “maturity;” an ideal team player is mature in the ways described above. Being humble is often a result of circumstance, though it can be practiced into existence, and being smart about people often comes through a lot of good and bad interactions with people. I would consider maturity to be akin to having “self-awareness,” and “having grown up.” Regardless, I consider the connotations of this term, “mature” to be helpful in this discussion.

My tension is with the “personality/temperament,” and “team dynamics.” Group and Family theory suggests that the attributes of an individual’s character may be more a reflection of the forces that exist within a web of relationships (the “system”) rather than the innate attributes of an individual. In other words, someone could attain to these virtues as their life/work is in connection with an entire culture around them. There’s a lot more to be explored here, but I simply mention it as a possible derivative of Lencioni’s work around leadership, and the importance of culture in an organization as a huge factor for not just identifying ideal team players, but also creating them.

I offer my deepest thanks to The Table Group for their outstanding contribution to this field of work.