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The Ideal Team Player by Patrick M. Lencioni.
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One of the most important ways to succeed in business and life is by developing the ability to be a team player. Yet ideal team players are uncommon. As leaders, we say we want team players, but we often can’t clearly define the individual qualities we’re looking for.

In The Ideal Team Player, author and business consultant Patrick Lencioni describes the model team player and explains how to develop current employees into team players and make sure you hire team players in the future.

He defines three essential personal qualities or “virtues” the ideal team player embodies—humility, hunger or drive, and people skills.

With coaching and a relentless organizational commitment to teamwork, most people can learn to be ideal team players. Those who do increase their value to current and future employers. Furthermore, leaders who hire employees who already demonstrate humility, hunger, and people skills (referred to in the book as smarts) get better results and eliminate politics, turnover, and morale issues.

Through the fictional story of a man who takes over his uncle’s troubled construction company, The Ideal Team Player explains how these three simple qualities combined can transform any organization.

In the fable, Jeff Shenley takes over Valley Builders, which has just won two major building projects, at a time when the company is being hamstrung by infighting and lack of clarity about what’s expected of employees. Jeff turns the company around by defining the ideal team player and developing those qualities in employees.

The Three Virtues of a Team Player

In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins writes that successful companies prioritize hiring the “right” people—those who fit the company’s culture. But many leaders hire for skills and competence instead. (Shortform note: Read our summary of Good to Great here.)

For organizations committed to a teamwork culture, the right people are ideal team players who are humble, hungry, and smart.

While the virtues sound simple, developing and living them is more complicated. Many people have one or more of the qualities, but fewer possess all three. A team member who lacks just one quality can hold back or derail a team. Here’s a closer look.

1) Humble

Great team players focus on the success of the team rather than personal interests. They lack overbearing egos or an obsession with status. They don’t try to get attention and readily give credit to others.

There are two kinds of non-humble people, who seem different but have a common underlying issue—insecurity:

  • Arrogant, ego-driven people who try to make themselves the center of attention. They are less confident than they appear, so they try to overcompensate with bluster. They undermine teamwork by stirring resentment, creating division, and playing politics.
  • People who lack self-confidence and downplay their contributions and abilities. Others may see them as humble because they’re self-effacing, but people who are truly humble neither overrate nor underrate themselves.

2) Hungry

People who are hungry are driven to seek more work and responsibility. They’re always looking ahead to the next step or opportunity. They’re committed to the work and willing to go above and beyond—for instance, working outside regular hours—when necessary. Managers don’t have to push or monitor them because they’re self-motivated and conscientious.

3) Smart

Being smart in a team context doesn’t refer to intelligence but having common sense when it comes to dealing with people. Those with people skills understand where others are coming from. They ask questions and listen attentively. They are aware of group dynamics and of the impact of their words and actions on others, and they act appropriately for the circumstances.

Assessing People

You can improve the effectiveness of a team by assessing how people measure up to the virtues of an ideal team player, and by helping those who fall short to develop the right qualities or move on to something else. People typically fall into the following categories:

1) None of the virtues: People who lack all three aren’t likely to develop into team players....

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Introduction

One of the most important ways to succeed in your workplace and life is by developing the ability to be a team player. Being able to work effectively with others to achieve a group goal is more important than ever in an interdependent and changing world.

Yet ideal team players are uncommon. As leaders, we say we want team players, but we can’t clearly define the individual qualities we’re looking for—and so we end up hiring people who undermine teamwork (it doesn’t take many to destroy a team). In addition, many leaders and organizations pay lip service to teamwork, but they don’t devote serious attention to making it part of their culture.

In The Ideal Team Player, author and business consultant Patrick Lencioni describes the model team player and explains how to develop current employees into team players and make sure you’re hiring team players.

Building on...

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Part 1: The Fable | Chapter 1: Learning the Ropes

Bob Shanley, founder and owner of Valley Builders, a large Napa Valley construction firm, was approaching retirement and looking for someone to take over his business. His nephew, Jeff Shanley, who’d spent two decades in marketing in Silicon Valley, was looking for a new challenge.

None of Bob’s siblings or children was involved in or interested in running the 200-employee company. Meanwhile, Jeff had done some successful consulting work with Valley Builders’ executive team—he and Bob liked and respected each other. So Bob agreed to train his nephew as his successor. Jeff, his wife Maurine, and their children moved to Napa Valley, and Jeff focused on learning the construction business.

Jeff’s education in the construction business was short-circuited, however, when Bob developed heart problems; he needed immediate surgery and had to step down. Jeff suddenly found himself becoming the new CEO.

Adding to Jeff’s challenges, Valley Builders had just landed two large projects—a hospital and a hotel. The company had done projects like these before, but it had never done two major projects at the same time. Bob assured Jeff they had the capability—they just needed to significantly...

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Chapter 2: Defining a Team Player

Jeff visited the Oak Ridge building site to get a feel for the problems there. He introduced himself to the difficult project manager, Nancy Morris, who was reticent in answering his questions. She said her part of the work was on schedule; if he wanted to know about the rest of it, he needed to ask the other manager, Craig. She didn’t know what Craig was doing because he’d stopped inviting her to his meetings.

Jeff knew Craig because their kids went to the same school, and Craig was more welcoming than Nancy had been. When Jeff asked about the problems on the site, Craig said that while Nancy was quite capable, she couldn’t get along with anyone; she always seemed to say things that angered or upset someone. Craig had told her to stop coming to meetings if she was going to upset people, so she quit coming.

Back at the office, Jeff spoke with several administrative employees in the lunchroom about whether they thought the company tried to hire team players. The conversation affirmed Jeff’s impression that while the company wanted team players, people didn’t really know what that meant. Hiring was hit or miss.

Jeff felt they could turn things around if they could weed out the...

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Chapter 3: A Test Run

Ted’s formal interview was scheduled for the next day. Before meeting with him, the three senior executives further refined the three team player qualities that Jeff had identified.

They decided that working hard meant more than just putting in a certain number of hours—it also meant having motivation, passion, and a sense of urgency about the work. It meant going beyond what was expected—being hungry.

The other quality they’d talked about, being smart about people, was different from being intelligent. It was knowing how to act and what to say and not say, plus being aware of the impact of your words and actions on others. It was something like emotional intelligence but less complicated. But a person who was smart could still be a non-team player or jackass, by charming or manipulating people for his own ends.

The third quality they’d identified was a lack of ego. People with big egos were the opposite of a team player: focused on themselves and were arrogant. The opposite of arrogance is humility, which was the quality they were looking for.

**So an ideal team player would be...

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Chapter 4: Things Come Together

When they learned that Ted had backed out, Clare and Bobby questioned whether they were being too idealistic or simplistic with their model and had chased away a good candidate.

That night, Jeff talked it over with Maurine, who said the fact that the model was simple didn’t mean it was wrong. Besides, she said, Ted sounded like a total politician—and when you hire a politician, you get someone with an ego who creates complications.

To further test the team player model, Jeff decided to see whether evaluating people against the model would help them understand and solve their problems at the Oak Ridge site.

Jeff, Clare, and Bobby discussed the on-site managers. Nancy was humble and hungry, but definitely not smart about people. She inadvertently created a lot of problems that had to be cleaned up. Of her two foremen who had quit, Pedro was a complete team player, while Carl lacked hunger or motivation.

They decided that Craig, the other project manager, was also humble, hungry, and smart. Suddenly, Bobby had an epiphany: they should promote Craig to the executive team—he’d definitely fit in better than Ted. At that moment, they all realized that hiring Ted...

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Part 2: The Model | Chapter 5: The Three Virtues of a Team Player

This section of the book further explains the ideal team player model and how to use it in your organization.

In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins writes that successful companies prioritize hiring the “right” people—those who fit the company’s culture. (Shortform note: Read our summary of Good to Great here.) But instead, many leaders hire for skills and competence.

Defining the Three Virtues

For organizations committed to a teamwork culture, the right people are ideal team players who are humble, hungry, and smart.

1) Humble

Great team players focus on the success of the team rather than personal interests. They lack overbearing egos or an obsession with status. They don’t try to get attention and readily give credit to others.

Humility is the most important team player attribute, yet many managers put up with self-centered people because of their skills, and don’t call out their arrogance even though it undermines the team’s performance.

There are two kinds of non-humble people, who seem different but who have a common underlying issue: insecurity.

1) **Arrogant,...

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Shortform Exercise: Do You have a Teamwork Culture?

Many leaders and organizations say they want teamwork, but they can’t define what they mean by a team player, or prioritize identifying team players in their hiring process.


How important is a teamwork culture in your organization? How can you tell?

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Chapter 6: Assessing People

You can improve the effectiveness of a team by assessing how people measure up to the virtues of an ideal team player, and by helping those who fall short to develop the right qualities or move on to something else.

People typically fall into the following categories:

1) None of the virtues: People who aren’t humble, hungry, or smart aren’t likely to develop into team players. They’re rarely hired, however, because they stand out as the jackasses or jerks that no one wants to work with.

2) One of the virtues: Someone who has only one of the three qualities will have a tough time developing the other two, but it’s possible. These people can be:

  • Humble only (“Pawn”): People who are humble without being smart or hungry are of little value to the rest of the team. While pleasant and kind, they don’t make waves, build relationships, or get involved in team conversations. They aren’t motivated to do much. They can coast for a long time on teams that don’t demand performance.
  • Hungry only (“Bulldozer”): People who are hungry or driven but lack humility and interpersonal skills tend to run over others in pursuit of their own interests. They don’t care...

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Part 3: Applying the Model | Chapter 7: Hiring Team Players

There are four ways to use the ideal team player model to strengthen your organization:

  1. Hiring
  2. Assessing current employees
  3. Developing employees
  4. Embedding the model in your culture

The first way to strengthen teamwork is to make sure everyone you hire is an ideal team player. There’s no perfect tool for identifying them, but through focused interviewing and reference checking you can usually identify and hire team players.

The Interview Process

Focus your interview process on asking behavioral questions that uncover the three virtues as well as reveal red flags. There are many guides available for framing behavioral questions. Beyond that, here are a few ways to structure the interview process:

Be Specific

Ask specific questions that uncover whether the candidate has the qualities and behaviors of a team player (examples to come). Typical interviews follow a generic format and questions that provide only a general sense of the candidate—for instance, you come away thinking, “She seems capable.”

Compare Notes

Debrief managers immediately after an interview on whether the candidate seemed humble, hungry, and smart. Then use the...

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Shortform Exercise: Improve Your Interview Process

Most interviews follow the same predictable, often awkward format as they did 40 years ago. They focus on answers to stock questions that don’t tell you whether the person is a team player.


As a manager, what is your process for interviewing job candidates? What does it tell you about candidates?

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Chapter 8: Assessing Current Employees

Another way to use the team player model is to evaluate current employees. The possible results are:

  • You confirm an employee has the qualities of a team player.
  • You identify employees who lack essential qualities and help them develop into team players.
  • You determine that an employee can’t or won’t become a team player and you part company.

Assessing humble, hungry, and smart qualities also can help a manager identify the problem when struggling with an employee. The employee may be creating or having problems due to a major shortcoming in one of the three areas. You’ll either solve the problem with an employee improvement program or terminate the employee.

If you can’t decide whether an employee has what it takes to improve, keep working with them until you know for sure. That way you won’t make the mistake of writing off someone who could become a valuable contributor in time. More often, managers know when an employee isn’t a good fit, but don’t do anything about it.

Here are some approaches for evaluating...

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Shortform Exercise: Are You an Ideal Team Player?

Ideal team players are humble, hungry. and smart. They readily share credit, and they’re driven to work hard and do whatever they can for the good of the team. They’re attentive to coworkers.


Of the three qualities, which is your strongest? Why do you say that? Describe a time recently where you demonstrated your strongest quality.

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Chapter 9: Helping Employees to Develop

For employees to improve, leaders must consistently point out when they’re not doing what’s needed. It’s uncomfortable to repeatedly tell employees they’re missing the mark, but it’s the only way to get results. They’ll succeed or decide to leave—or you’ll have to terminate them.

Unfortunately, what often happens is that a manager points out problems a few times, but then stops and the employee thinks she must be doing OK or it’s not important anymore. Finally, the manager gets fed up and comes down hard on the employee, who is surprised because she thought things were fine. Consistency is key.

To help those who are significantly lacking in one of the virtues, here are some approaches:

Developing Humility

Talking to an employee about a lack of humility can be uncomfortable because it stems from insecurity (insecure people either overstate or understate their abilities) and is deeply personal. If a manager talks about her own challenges with humility—everyone is insecure at some level—it may help the employee feel more comfortable discussing the problem.

Also, if you can help the employee identify the reason they lack humility without trying to be a psychologist, it...

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Shortform Exercise: Developing Your Employees

To create and maintain a team culture, managers must help employees who struggle with one of the three virtues to improve. This includes consistently pointing out instances where they’re not doing what’s needed.


On your team, which employee needs help developing into an ideal team player? What is that person's weak trait?

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The Ideal Team Player Summary The Ideal Team Player Guide Chapter 10: Embedding Teamwork in Your Culture

Besides helping individuals become humble, hungry, and smart, it’s important to embed these values in your company’s culture. Here are some ways to do that:

Talk about Teamwork Constantly

Leaders who believe in teamwork should talk about their commitment to the three virtues to everyone—customers, partners, vendors, and job candidates. That helps establish the expectation among people dealing with the company that employees will be humble, hungry, and smart and encourages employees to behave that way. And as word gets around, the organization becomes known for its culture, and it’s easier to find employees who are a good fit.

While it may sound simplistic or contrived to some, the organizations that are most explicit about a teamwork culture are the most successful in building it.

Reward People for Teamwork

Managers often don’t say anything when employees do what they want them to, but they’re missing an opportunity. When employees act in ways that show humility, hunger, or people skills, leaders should call attention to it. **Praise rewards and motivates the employee and reminds everyone else of what’s...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Introduction
  • Part 1: The Fable | Chapter 1: Learning the Ropes
  • Chapter 2: Defining a Team Player
  • Chapter 3: A Test Run
  • Chapter 4: Things Come Together
  • Part 2: The Model | Chapter 5: The Three Virtues of a Team Player
  • Exercise: Do You have a Teamwork Culture?
  • Chapter 6: Assessing People
  • Part 3: Applying the Model | Chapter 7: Hiring Team Players
  • Exercise: Improve Your Interview Process
  • Chapter 8: Assessing Current Employees
  • Exercise: Are You an Ideal Team Player?
  • Chapter 9: Helping Employees to Develop
  • Exercise: Developing Your Employees
  • Chapter 10: Embedding Teamwork in Your Culture