The Ideal Team Player: A book review by Bob Morris

The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues
Patrick Lencioni
Jossey-Bass/An Imprint of John Wiley & Sons (2016)

How and why teamwork remains the ultimate competitive advantage because it is so powerful…and so rare

This is another of the books I re-read every year or so to re-energize my understanding of an especially important challenge to business leaders. In this instance, how to improve teamwork throughout the given enterprise.

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In my opinion, Patrick Lencioni is among the most creative and influential business thinkers now doing all they can to accelerate the personal growth and professional development of as many people as possible. He is grand master of the business fable. Expect no elusive cheese or melting icebergs. He anchors his insights in real-world situations, focusing on fictitious characters with whom most executives can easily identify. That said, the details of the fable are best revealed within the narrative, in context, as events unfold. I now concentrate on what I think are Lencioni’s key points in his latest book.

First, whereas in an earlier book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he examines what the title correctly indicates, his purpose now is to introduce his Ideal Team Player model and stress the importance of having people who possess three underlying, essential virtues that enable them to be ideal team players: they are humble, hungry, and smart. As simple as those words may appear, none of them is exactly what they seem. Understanding the nuances of these virtues is critical for applying them effectively.”

The extensive research that Lencioni and his associates conducted suggests that “these three seemingly obvious qualities are to teamwork what speed, strength, and coordination are to athletes— they make everything else easier.” Obviously, organizational performance will be determined by the performance of the people it can recruit, hire, develop, and then retain. It is no coincidence that the companies annually ranked as most highly regarded and best to work for are also among those annually ranked as most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry.

In this context, I am reminded of an observation by Warren Buffett: “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest – for example — the scope of Lencioni’s coverage when discussing the model of an ideal team player:

o Defining the Three Virtues (Pages 151-161)
o Application of the model #1: Hiring (174-187)
o Application of the model #2: Assessing current employees (187-195)
o Application of the model #3: Developing employees who lack one or more of the virtues (195-207)
o Application of the model #4: Embedding the model within the workplace culture (207-211)
o Connecting the ideal team player with the five dysfunctions of a team (212-214)

Here are a few of what I call “snippets” of key material:

“Humility is the single greatest and most indispensible attribute of being a team player.” Comment: See Buffett quote provided earlier.

“Hungry people almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent.” Comment: They respond best opportunities and challenges, not material rewards.

“Smart simply refers to a person’s common sense about people.” Comment: They combine “street smarts” with “people skills.”

It would be a serious mistake to assume that Patrick Lencioni is a naive idealist out of touch with reality. On the contrary, he is a world-class, hardcore, diehard pragmatist. He fully understands that every member of every workforce has room for improvement in all three areas: humility, hunger, and smarts. In fact, he insists – and I agree – that it is critically important to develop all three virtues and behave accordingly, not only at work but in all interactions and relationships elsewhere. Becoming an ideal team player is a never-ending process rather than an ultimate destination.

Those now involved in that process or who aspire to would be well-advised to keep this observation by Margaret Mead in mind: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”


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