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Best Books to Buy: "The Ideal Team Player" by Patrick Lencioni -

This month’s book is The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni.

About the Book:

"The Ideal Team Player" by Patrick Lencioni -

“If someone were to ask me to make a list of the most valuable qualities a person should develop in order to thrive in the world of work – and for that matter, life – I would put being a team player at the top. The ability to work effectively with others, to add value within the dynamics of a group endeavor, is more critical in today’s fluid world than it has ever been. Few people succeed at work, in the family, or in any social context without it.”

Anyone who’s ever been on a process improvement team knows that much depends on teamwork. Mr. Lencioni’s books often go hand-in-hand with Lean Six Sigma efforts since successful change hinges on people working together to make things better. The idea of having “ideal” team players on an improvement team, amongst the stakeholders and in leadership is, well, ideal.

The book’s title leads to a good question: what constitutes the “ideal?” If you haven’t thought about it in depth, you might say, “I know it when I see it.” Or I really know it if I end up working with a jerk. Mr. Lencioni is known for approaching these issues from this perspective as well – the lack of the ideal. He is most famous for his series addressing The Five Dysfunctions of a Team so it was interesting to see where this fits with the rest of his books (and it fits well).

The first section is in story form. In the tradition of Eli Goldratt, he creates a fictionalized business scenario that rings familiar and helps make the “ideal” team player, or lack thereof, more tangible. I liked this section since the scenarios were never obvious. His characters behave like real people and it’s never completely obvious what’s right – although they all agree that it’s not good to be a “jackass.” He deals with the very human reaction of not being sure about things. He also includes a hilarious scene at a Starbucks where his protagonist is trying to “remember whether venti meant medium or large.” It reminded me of a friend who asked whether ordering a “grande” meant she had to pay in pesos.

Starbucks jokes aside, he spends the first two thirds of the book on what he calls the “fable” and the last third on the model. The format works because after seeing the characters struggle to bring the right people into the firm, you’re curious to hear how to deal practically with the “team player” issues he brings up in the real world. How exactly does one find, mold or become an ideal team player?

The Model

Like any good consultant, he abides by the “Rule of Three.” He’s boiled the attributes of an ideal team player down to these virtues.

The ability to be:

  • Humble: Lacking excessive ego or concerns with status
  • Hungry: Always looking for more; more to learn, more to do, more responsibility to take on
  • Smart: Having common sense about people – the ability to be interpersonally appropriate and aware

He makes a distinction between being “people smart” and, Daniel Goleman’s term, having “emotional intelligence,” although it seems to be a pretty nuanced distinction. What I do like is that his model maintains that you can’t just have good people smarts. It’s a good attribute but it doesn’t guarantee success all by itself and people can learn to adapt if they don’t come by it naturally. There is a lot of focus these days on having high “EQ” (Emotional Quotient) and he makes clear that in his mind it’s not even the most important attribute.

He arrived at these three virtues while working with his own colleagues in their own firm. They considered it an internal requirement and particular to their own culture. But whenever they mentioned it to their clients, they all wanted in on the model. Queue the book tour.

The model hangs together well. I like his admission that being “humble” is “the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.” There’s been much surrounding this issue in the press recently regarding startups that “reluctantly hire self-centered people” without “considering the effect that an arrogant, self-centered person has on the overall performance of the team.” Think about the cumulative effect on the culture and downfall of Enron or, more recently, the ouster of Uber’s Travis Kalanik.

Being humble is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.

The Application

But the need for talent is real. And there’s no clear path to finding and keeping “ideal team players” on staff. Luckily, Mr. Lencioni is quite generous when addressing how to deal with real life applications of his model. Readers should be particularly keen on his practical advice for how to hire “ideal” people. Hiring is increasingly a crapshoot. Data shows that interviews don’t necessarily help people make better hiring decisions. If someone is charismatic they could just as easily be charmingly self-serving as they could be a helpful “people person.”

Hiring is increasingly a crapshoot. Data shows that interviews don’t necessarily help people make better hiring decisions.

He offers free guidance, questionnaires, videos and downloadable tools for 4 applications:

  • Application 1: Hiring
  • Application 2: Assessing Current Employees
  • Application 3: Developing Employees Who Are Lacking in One or More of the Virtues
  • Application 4: Embedding the Model Into an Organization’s Culture

I found all of his guidance useful – he’s done decent research on what works. I won’t go into another hiring process without referring to his interview questions & methods, and I’ve already downloaded the free Manager’s Assessment. That’s the best testament to the usefulness of someone’s theories – if you’re able to successfully apply them (I’ll have to report back on the relative success…).

Sponsors/Champions and Team Leads looking to create a strong culture of problem solvers should be more mindful of what he calls, “Catch and Revere.” “Leaders who want to create a culture of humility, hunger and people smarts in their organization should be constantly on the lookout for any displays of those virtues. And when they see those displays, they should hold them up as examples for everyone to see.” That’s something people often forget. Being trained as critical thinkers means we’re good at criticizing. We’re not as good at focusing what’s right as we are at calling out what’s gone wrong. If you took just that idea from this book you’d be a hero!

Leaders who want to create a culture of humility, hunger and people smarts in their organization should be constantly on the lookout for any displays of those virtues.

About the Author:

Mr. Lencioni is the founder of The Table Group and the author of 11 books which have sold over 5 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. The Wall Street Journal called him “one of the most in demand speakers in America.” He has addressed millions of people at conferences and events around the world over the past 15 years. He has written for or been featured in numerous publications including Harvard Business Review, Inc., Fortune, Fast Company, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek.

Practical Tools and Concepts Covered:

  • Team Building
  • Hiring
  • Employee Assessments
  • Employee Development

Who Should Read The Ideal Team Player?

From the Page:

“Leaders who believe that teamwork is important and expect their people to be humble, hungry, and smart should come right out and say so. They should tell everyone. Employees. Vendors. Partners. Customers. Prospective customers. Prospective employees. Everyone.”

Check out our Amazingly Awesome List for more book reviews as well as a comprehensive list of Lean Six Sigma and process improvement books!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

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