The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues

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.


With all the information available today and teams, most likely everyone has an idea of what the ideal team player may look like characteristically. And most likely if you were to take a survey of opinions you could possibly collect a list of 20 or more said qualities.

However our culture works against us in this area. So the gap between team members that embody the values of an ideal team player as opposed to those who do not is increasing. We have a culture that values isolation over true relational connections; self-centered as opposed to others centered; prideful in themselves and their abilities; entitled vs hungry for more.

I just finished reading Patrick Lencioni’s latest leadership fable called The Ideal Team Player. If you are interested in this topic and want something to read this summer, I highly recommend it. The story is a fun read; with some insightful lessons on both leadership and being a team player.

Based on his many years of corporate and consulting experience, Lencioni has boiled the characteristics of an ideal team player down to three virtues as he calls them. Lencioni makes it clear that these are skills that can be learned and cultivated in everyone’s life. Here they are with definitions from his website (

  • Humble: Ideal team players are humble. They lack excessive ego or concerns about status. Humble people 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.
  • Hungry: 
Ideal team players are hungry. They are always looking for more. More things to do. More to learn. More responsibility to take on. Hungry people almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent. They are constantly thinking about the next step and the next opportunity.
  • (People) Smart: 
Ideal team players are smart. They have common sense about people. Smart people tend to know what is happening in a group situation and how to deal with others in the most effective way. They have good judgment and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and the impact of their words and actions.

I think what Lencioni calls “Smart” is much more in line with our understanding of Relational Intelligence which is a subject that lacks very many resources for a reader to explore further. Relational Intelligence: How Leaders Can Expand Their Influence Through a New Way of Being Smart (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)

Parts of this book also reminded me of Brad Loemenick’s H3 Leadership, though this book focuses on more than leadership alone and drills down some of the same values to a team culture with integrating in relational intelligence which is essential

The ideal team player is strong in all three of these behaviors and can be found where the three circles overlap:



People who have shortcomings in all three of these traits have little chance of being a valuable member of a team. It would be best for an organization to move them out.

If someone is firing on only one of three cylinders, the journey is going to be difficult but not impossible. They will need to be made aware of their shortcomings, acknowledge these and be willing to work on correcting them, thru feedback and coaching.

Lencioni describes the behaviors of these individuals and gives them the titles you see below (pg. 168):



Pawns are nice, unassuming people who don’t have much drive to accomplish things and lack the social smarts to build effective relationships with others on the team. Because they are nice and get along, pawns tend to get tolerated by teams for a good period of time.

Bulldozers have great drive and can push the team forward, but they tend to break a lot of china along the way because they don’t care much about other people’s feelings. They are also “me” focused and want to take advantage of the team for their own purposes.

Charmers like to put on a good show for the team but don’t contribute much. They like to tell people how good they are but don’t really care for the team’s success. Unfortunately, their entertaining style will keep them on the team even longer then the Pawn.

Next, Lencioni looks at team members who have strengths in 2 of the 3 key virtues. These people are more difficult to recognize because their strengths can obscure their weaknesses (pg. 169). These people can become strong team players if they address and correct the one bad behavior. If the negative characteristic is too strong to overcome, then they may never become an ideal team player:

Accidental Mess-Makers are the “elephants in the china shop” that mean well and don’t want any credit but lack the people skills to communicate effectively with other team members. Their words and actions can often lead to frustration with other team members. But, they do contribute and are respected by others because they have the work ethic to move the team forward.

Lovable Slackers have the humbleness and people skills to get on well with other team members but lack the drive to contribute to the team’s goals. They often have other interest outside the team that are more important to them. Their friendly disposition often makes it hard for leaders to confront them on their lack of drive.

Skillful Politicians are the most dangerous people to have on a team because they are good at manipulating people to achieve their own objectives. They are hard working but like to bask in the glory of what they have accomplished. Skillful Politicians need to be identified, called out and corrected… or moved off the team as quickly as possible.

Lencioni ends his book with a final thought that points to Jesus as the embodiment of these virtues. It is my understanding that trying to cultivate these values alone in ourselves is a difficult task but when we allow Jesus to mold and shape us into His image these are natural by-products of this growing relationship.

“…I must admit that apart from the other two virtues, humility stands alone. It is, indeed, the greatest of all virtues and the antithesis of pride, which is the root of all sin, according to the Bible.” (pg. 215)

So which of these virtues come more naturally for you and which do you need more work at?

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The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues
Source: Patrick Lencioni: The Ideal Team Player, Jossey-Bass, Hoboken, NJ 2016