The Ideal Team Player: 3 Key Characteristics (Patrick M. Lencioni)

“Teamwork is such a competitive advantage,” says Patricki Lencioni, founder and president of the Table Group, author of The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues: A Leadership Fable. Lencioni says he likes to keep it simple. He recently shared his three characteristics of the ideal team player at SHRM’s Annual Conference & Exhibition, held recently in New Orleans.


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Here are his three characteristics:

  • Humble (does not think less of self; think of self less)
  • Hungry (aggressively pursues goals)
  • Smart (emotionally smart, that is, in interactions with others)

Unfortunately, many people possess only one or two of the characteristics, making them less than ideal team players.

People Possessing 1 of the 3 Characteristics

When you only have one of the three characteristics, you aren’t going to be much of a team player. Lencioni has self-explanatory names for each type.

  • Only Humble=The Pawn
  • Only Hungry= The Bulldozer
  • Only Smart=The Charmer (think Ferris Bueller, Lencioni says)

So what about when you have two of the three characteristics?

People Possessing 2 of the 3 Characteristics

Having two of the key characteristics is better than having only one, but it’s still not enough to make an ideal team player. Again, Lencioni has descriptive monikers for each possibility.

  • Humble and Hungry, but not Smart=The Accidental Messmaker
  • Humble and Smart but not Hungry=The Lovable Slacker
  • Hungry and Smart but not Humble=The Skillful Politician

Warning: Lencioni says beware: Skillful Politicians can pretend to be Humble.

Hiring Ideal Team Players

“Stop focusing on tech skills,” Lencioni says. Make interviewing a team sport he says. For example, schedule three interviews with two company representatives each. Then let the teams compare notes. Try to get candidates out into the real world, he says. Shopping or even consider a cross-country flight with the candidate.

Developing Ideal Team Players

Lencioni offers some other tips for developiong your teams:

Go first. Be vulnerable, Lencioni says. You be the first one to mention weakness in one of the three characteristics.

Help the team to identify weak areas. One exercise is to have the members of the team group themselves by their worst characteristic; that is, all the people who think “humble” is their worst go into one room, etc.

Finally, Lencioni says, you have to constantly remind your people about the three characteristics and when they are not adequately following all three. Give team members permission to challenge each other as well.