The Ideal Team Player

This is another fantastic book by Patrick Lencioni. If you have not guessed it yet, I truly enjoy his books and after reading each book I realize I have learned a lot as well as been inspired to continue my research and journey to be a better manager and leader.


In this book, The Ideal Team Player, he focusses on the individual. Whereas his book, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, focusses on teamwork. Here is a link to my post on The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.


To summarize:

5 behavioral manifestations of Teamwork:
• Trust
• Conflict (healthy)
• Commitment
• Accountability
• Results


If you want increase your knowledge and your set of tools, you need to read this book.


Think of a single sports player who thinks s/he is better than the rest of the team and this player thinks they are what makes the team win and how that thinking and attitude affects the rest of the team. Would you want to be part of that team? How hard would it be to manage that player? Or how harder would it be to lead the team? And the list of questions goes on.


Here is an older, but a good example of a well-known and popular player, Scottie Pippen, that highlights this issue:


The backdrop to the story:
• It is the 1994 Championship game between Kicks and the Bulls.
• Both teams had a team with a lot of big-named players.
• Score was 102-102.
• There was only 1.8 seconds left!
• Coach pulls team aside to the bench and calls a play designed for someone else than the “most popular player” – in this case that would be Scottie Pippen
• Everyone on the team, but one person, was excited and all in for the newly designed and chosen play.
• One player uttered negative words under his breath so only his teammates could hear
• They encouraged him to get on board with the new play, he refused
• The rest of the players were united as a TEAM
• They had faith in their coach and his decision as the coach (trusting he knew more than the players at that moment)
• This decision could have lost the championship game for them – a single play.


What do you think happened?!

5 Dysfunctions of a Team focuses on how a group of people must interact in order to become a cohesive team. This book focusses on an individual team member and the virtues that make him or her more likely to overcome the dysfunctions that derails teams.


The Ideal Team Player is all about the makeup of individual team members while The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team are about the dynamics of teams getting things done.


When team members improve their abilities to be Humble, Hungry, and Smart, they’ll be able to make more progress in overcoming the 5 dysfunctions on a regular basis.


Book Summary:

Bob is in construction management and has to figure out how to keep a company running when the owner/CEO goes out on medical leave and they have two significant projects coming up and they need to hire a lot more people and they want to hire the best employees (at all levels) to ensure the outcomes or results of both projects are successful.


The three executives in the fable ultimately come up with three traits they feel their team members need in order to be successful within their company and company culture: “Humble”, “Hungry”, and “Smart”.


These three traits they felt were critical and were to build off the “team work” concept they had learned about a year prior but let the commitment to those changes and practices lapse over time and they needed to go back and build on the foundation of teamwork they had learned and now focus more on the traits of the individuals that were going to make up their team.


Here are just some of the highlights – what I call “I Power Seeds” – to get you interested and thinking.


When you keep toxic managers or leaders around, non-toxic and great employees leave. Many times we as managers keep toxic employees on our team as it can be hard to remove them, but we also lose great employees because they do not want to be part of a team or work for someone who is toxic.


The executives in the book’s fable use a term “_ack_sses” and they realize that not only do they lose good employees, but these toxic managers hire more of the same kind which continues to proliferate the traits and practices they did not want within their company (nor should you). This exacerbates the poor behaviors which makes it continually harder for changes to be made as the number of toxic employees will increase.


I give you one example of my own. When I put together a hiring panel, I always make sure those members of the panel are thinking and looking for the same things I am in the candidates, which is that they are Hungry, Humble and Smart. I also ensure and ask if these panel members can envision themselves working with this person every day. This practice has significantly changed who we hire and how my team has been changing/improving over time.


The most unhappy people are the ones who don’t fit the culture, the ones who don’t belong – they are miserable as they know they don’t belong.


Bob put on a white board those employees with bad behaviors and wrote down adjectives about each one to find common denominators between them.


I would add to this exercise and look at the employees over time and ask questions such as, “Were they always like that? Did the continued and negative culture change their attitude?” I think looking at it over time provides a 3D look and recognizing this could potentially keep good team members. They will only stay if the culture was changed to a positive and cohesive one, which included – Trust, (healthy) Conflict, Commitment, Accountability, Results.


The management team came up with the denominators:
• Ego   (Humble) – being unpretentious
• Hard work   (Hungry)
• People   (Smart) – how to act, what to say, what not to say


They used a Venn Diagram and put the names of their current staff closest to the traits they felt they had or did not have (Humble, Hungry, Smart). Here is an example of a Venn Diagram, where the very center is the “ideal team player”.

Venn Diagram

What Humble, Hungry, and Smart brings is results – which is the top of The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team pyramid (inattention to results).


Great team players are Humble, Hungry, and Smart.


The executive team help an interview with each person about humble, hungry, and smart and asked them to self-assess themselves. I think this was a great idea – gave each person a little insight into themselves. How many times do we not see something until we look at it from another direction or a different perspective and you end up having an “ah-ha” moment? Great stuff!


Humble, Hungry, Smart – it is not theoretical or touchy-feely.


Patrick Lencioni calls Humble, Hungry, Smart as “3 Virtues” and humility being the most important. Humility also meaning deflated sense of self-worth – when you don’t speak up even though you have great ideas.


Take quote from P157, first paragraph:
“In the context of teamwork, humility is largely what it seems to be. Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. It is no great surprise, them, that humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.”


Be careful not to pigeonhole people, but better understand what constitutes an ideal team player so we can recognize and develop them on our teams.


I share a personal story that when I was interviewing for a VP position at a large company I had gone through the barrage of interview panels and one-on-ones with key stakeholders like the CEO and CFO. But they also recognized the Humble, Hungry, Smart model and wanted to ensure I had these virtues. So one of the key members of the IT department “casually” asked me if I wanted to meet for lunch. Of course I accepted and we had a really good conversation, but was clear he was trying to get me to let my guard down and show my true self and did I truly possess the virtues of Humble, Hungry, Smart and would I fit into their company culture. Which I did, and out of 600 applicants, 300 having IT experience, I got the job.


Here are some interview questions I took from the book.  There are many others really good ones.


One note he brought to light, which I have done, is within the interview questions, ask the same question in a different manner later on. This will help you validate what they have said for important or key areas that are important to you and your department or company culture. Such as:
• How would your colleagues describe your worth ethic?
• How would your manager describe your relationship with your colleagues?


What are your most important accomplishments of your career?


What was the biggest embarrassment or biggest failure and how did you handle it?


What is your greatest weakness or what would you change about yourself or better yet what would your friends say you need to work on?


Tell me about someone who is better than you in an area that really matters to you?


What is the hardest project you worked on?


What do you like to do outside of work?


How would you describe your personality?


What kind of people annoy you the most and how do you work with them?


Would your former colleagues describe you as empathetic? Give an example where you demonstrated empathy to a teammate (how others feel)


Interviewers need to ask themselves, “could I work with this person every day?”


Let your reference checks reveal to you if the person would thrive in your culture.


Key is: the process is aimed at improved vs. punishment.


Have a 360 feedback program.


Many people do not seem to realize how their words and actions impact others.


Book recommended within “The Ideal Team Player” – “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

Good to Great by Jim Collins


Book Summary from Amazon
In his classic book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni laid out a groundbreaking approach for tackling the perilous group behaviors that destroy teamwork. Here he turns his focus to the individual, revealing the three indispensable virtues of an ideal team player.


In The Ideal Team Player, Lencioni tells the story of Jeff Shanley, a leader desperate to save his uncle’s company by restoring its cultural commitment to teamwork. Jeff must crack the code on the virtues that real team players possess, and then build a culture of hiring and development around those virtues.


Beyond the fable, Lencioni presents a practical framework and actionable tools for identifying, hiring, and developing ideal team players. Whether you’re a leader trying to create a culture around teamwork, a staffing professional looking to hire real team players, or a team player wanting to improve yourself, this book will prove to be as useful as it is compelling.

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