We often talk about whether someone is a team player. In interviews, performance reviews, or while sharing feedback, everyone agrees that being a team player is extremely desirable in an employee (or a potential hire). Despite widespread usage of the phrase and agreement on its importance, great team players are rather rare.
Why is that so?
Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that although we all have our own notions of what team players are like, we lack a formal, practical framework to define the qualities ideal team players should possess.
In this post, I want to share what I learned about the virtues that real team players must possess and how leaders can identify, hire for and cultivate those qualities in teams.
In this book, Patrick Lencioni’s central thesis is that an ideal team player possesses a potent combination of three virtues — humble, hungry, and smart.
Further, Lencioni states, when a team member significantly lacks one or more of these virtues, the process of building a cohesive team becomes hard, and in some cases, impossible. So leaders should ensure that they hire people who demonstrate these attributes and actively develop these qualities in the people already in their team.
The three virtues:
Humble: This is by far the most obvious and easiest to understand. Humility in a team member shows up as a lack of excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to share credit, praise others freely, and sometimes even forego credit due to them in the interest of celebrating the team’s collective win. They demonstrate strong alignment towards the team’s goals and prioritize collective wins over individual ones. Humble team players are self-confident but not arrogant. A memorable quote that summarizes this indispensable attribute is: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”
Hungry: Hungry people are always looking for more. They are intrinsically motivated, diligent, and have a strong desire to do more by going above and beyond. Hungry people do not have to be pushed by their managers to perform; they constantly look for more responsibility and think about the next step and the next opportunity (for the team).
Smart: By ‘smart,’ the author here refers to emotional intelligence and interpersonal awareness: The capability to conduct oneself in a group situation and deal with others in the most effective way. Emotionally intelligent people ask good questions, listen to what others are saying, and engage in conversations intently. Smart people exercise great judgment and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and are fully aware of the effect their words will have on the team.
To be a real team player, one must embody all these qualities. Being deficient in any one of them will lead to undesirable effects on the cohesion of the team.
The lack of one or more of these virtues leads to some interesting personas. See if you can relate to having dealt with any of these:
The accidental mess-maker: This person is Humble and Hungry, but not Smart!
The skillful politician: Meet the skillful politician, who is Hungry and Smart, but not Humble!
The lovable slacker: Say hello to the lovable slacker, who is Humble and Smart but not Hungry!
The bulldozer: You’ve got a bulldozer who’s Hungry, but neither Humble nor Smart.
How do you use this framework as a leader?
In hiring the right people: Nothing beats bootstrapping a team with team players and keeping a culture of solid teamwork. To do this, change the way you hire. The traditional one-dimensional approach of over-indexing technical skills and aptitude won’t give you insights into whether your potential hire is a good team player.
Why is all this ultimately important?
Having great team players is a prerequisite for effective teamwork, and it is solid teamwork that unlocks the true and full potential of teams.
People who are humble, hungry and smart demonstrate behaviours such as vulnerability-based trust, healthy conflict, active commitment, peer-to-peer accountability, and a focus on results — and these, in turn, will lead to incredibly successful teams.