The Ideal Team Player

Have you ever worked with someone who was determined to get things done but often ran over others on the team in the process? How about someone who doesn’t seek the limelight but also never raises his hand to volunteer to help? How about someone who is a hard worker but you know she is putting on the act of being humble but is actually extremely manipulative?

In The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni identifies great team members as those who are humble, hungry and smart. The book grew out of the question of what type of person it takes to move a team past The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and forward to greater cohesion.

  • Humility. This is the single greatest and most indispensable virtue of a great team player. Those with humility share credit, emphasize team over self and define success collectively.
  • Hunger. Hungry people almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder. They are self-motivated, diligent and always looking for more to learn and do.
  • Smarts. In this context, being smart refers to a person’s common sense about people. It is not about intellectual capacity but about the ability to be interpersonally appropriate and aware.

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To be an ideal team player, you need all three virtues. If you’re missing one or more, team cohesion can suffer. See if you recognize some of these less-than-ideal characters from your teams:

Missing Two Qualities

The pawn: Humble but not smart or hungry. The pawn is pleasant but has no urgency to get things done and is unable to build effective relationships.

The bulldozer: Hungry but not humble or smart. The bulldozer is determined to get things done but is focused on his/her own interests and unconcerned with the impact on others.

The charmer: Smart but not humble or hungry. The charmer is entertaining and likeable but has little interest in the well-being of colleagues and is not a high performer.

Missing One Quality

The accidental mess-maker: Humble and hungry but not smart. The accidental mess-maker is not concerned with credit, genuinely wants to serve the team but the lack of awareness creates interpersonal issues.

The lovable slacker: Humble and smart but not hungry. The lovable slacker is adept at working with others and doesn’t look for undeserved attention but rarely takes on work and is therefore a drag on the team.

The skillful politician: Smart and hungry but not humble. Lencioni calls this out as the most dangerous archetype of all. The skillful politician will work extremely hard but only for personal benefit, can appear to be humble and is extremely manipulative.


Now, be honest: Which one of these characters are you? Are you the ideal team player or are you?

John Scorza offers a great summary of the Partick Lencioni’s bestselling book on the blog for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).


Gwen Voelpel

Gwen Voelpel has 20 years of experience in coaching and mentoring leaders at all levels of organizations. She has an undergraduate degree in communications, a graduate degree in public administration, and has served as an executive leader in several organizations. Gwen is an accredited Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team and Everything DiSC Workplace Facilitator and a Certified Master in Training for The Leadership Challenge.