There are three characteristics that an ideal team player has according to Lencioni: Humble, Driven or “hungry” and Socially Smart. The combination of those three characteristics just makes it difficult. Even in the absence of any one of the three, teamwork becomes significantly more difficult.

The Model - The Ideal Team Player

With enough time, patience and attention from a good manager, almost anyone can learn to become a team player. I’m convinced of that.


Some people are better at teamwork than others, though. These are people who add immediate value in a team environment and need much less coaching and management to contribute in a meaningful way.


So there are two logical questions. What do these people look like? How do we find them? It turns out that they have three characteristics in common: they are humble, hungry and smart.


Before I explain each of these characteristics, let me explain how this theory was developed. Like so many of my ideas, it emerged as a result of my work with clients over the past 20 years. Whenever I worked with CEOs and their leadership teams to identify core values, I was often asked about the values of my own company, The Table Group. When we revealed our three values, many of our clients asked if they could adopt those values for themselves as well.


Of course, we said “no” and explained that they needed to come up with their own concepts that reflected their unique history and culture. We were a company focused on teamwork and known for The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, so the values humble, hungry and smart made sense to us. What we didn’t realize was that our customers, almost all of whom were into teamwork, were drawn to our values because those were the building blocks of true team players. Once we realized that, the idea for this book was born.

Possible Topics

How to recognize the ideal team player?


The three characteristics seem quite simple, but require some explanation:


1. Humble

The first and most important characteristic of an ideal team player is humbleness.

A humble employee is one who cares more about the success of the team than getting recognition for his/her contributions.


People who are not humble, people who demand disproportionate attention, are dangerous to a team.

Humble team players are not afraid to honestly acknowledge the skills and talents they bring to the team, but never in a proud or bragging manner.


2. Hunger

The next characteristic of an ideal team player is hunger, the desire to work hard and do whatever it takes to help the team succeed.


Hungry employees almost never need to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are motivated and diligent.

They volunteer to fill gaps, take on more responsibilities and eagerly seek new ways to contribute to the team.


3. Smart

The last characteristic of a team player has nothing to do with intelligence, but rather with dealing wisely with people.


Smart employees understand the nuances of team dynamics and know how their words and actions affect others.

Their good judgment and intuition help them deal with others in the most effective way.


As simple as these three concepts are, the key to it all is the unique combination of the three characteristics that make someone an ideal team player.

If even one of these characteristics is missing, problems can arise


For example, a humble and hungry employee who is not smart with people may achieve a lot, but will often leave a trail of interpersonal destruction behind.

A person who is smart and humble but not hungry will frustrate team members by doing only what is needed and will constantly be asked to do more


Finally, a team member who is hungry and smart, but really not humble, can have a devastating impact on a team.

This type manages to present himself as a well-meaning colleague while thinking primarily of his own needs. By the time team members realize this, people are manipulated and scarred


How do you recruit ideal team players? Above all, you need to know what to look for and that you should look for them in non-traditional ways.

What about employees who are already on the team and lack one or more of the characteristics? To help them improve, you need to make sure they understand the concepts and know where they fall short


Introducing this simple model to teams and allowing them to assess themselves is already a good step toward improvement.



Beautiful Result

The impact of team members who value and demonstrate humbleness, hunger and intelligence cannot be overemphasized. Most teams that are struggling are not so much lacking in knowledge or competencies as not having access to them because of dysfunctional behaviors. A team with all people who are humble, hungry and smart will overcome these dysfunctions quickly and easily, allowing them to get more done in less time and with far fewer distractions. I hope this approach will help leaders recruit, recognize and develop ideal team players in their organizations.


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