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The 3 Secrets to Become an Ideal Team Player – Patrick Lencioni (Webinar Summary)

Yesterday, together with Deloitte and Oslo Business Forum, we organized a webinar with teamwork and organizational health expert Patrick Lencioni. In this webinar, Patrick revealed to us the three virtues that make for an ideal team player. He also talked us through how to spot these virtues, and more importantly, the lack of them. 

Patric Lencioni – The Best Selling Author and Organizational Health Expert

Patrick Lencioni is the author of 13 books and a global pioneer of the organizational health movement.  He is the president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to promoting human dignity in the world of work. For nearly 30 years, Patrick and his team have been providing organizations with services that improve teamwork and employee engagement.

Patrick’s books have sold millions of copies worldwide and have been translated into over 30 languages. In one of his books, The Ideal Team Player, Pat turns his focus to the individual members, revealing the three virtues that together make someone the ideal team player. The book lays out a framework with easy-to-use tools for identifying, hiring, and developing ideal team players. 

Patrick says he discovered the three virtues by accident. He was helping companies choose their core values and noticed that once they heard the core values of Patrick’s company, they wanted to copy them. At first, Patrick thought these people were just being lazy, but later he realized there was something universally applicable about the values he had chosen with his own team. These values were the three virtues that make for an ideal team player.

“If we are serious about teamwork, we shouldn’t hire people who are egregiously lacking in one or more of these values.”

The Three Virtues of an Ideal Team Player 

The three virtues by themselves are not something new or groundbreaking. It’s the combination of all three that makes the magic happen. “The real beauty of this model is the overlap of them all,” says Patrick. Before he talked about the combinations of the three virtues, he introduces them one by one.

Virtue #1 – Humble

To be a great team player, you have to be humble. A humble person is able to admit their own flaws. Being humble does not mean you don’t take pride in your own work or that you belittle your achievements, it just means you are more interested in the collective good of the team than in your own success. 

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s just thinking about yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

Virtue #2 – Hungry

Someone who is hungry has a good work ethic, a strong ambition, and a desire to succeed. They are willing to go above and beyond to achieve their goals – or the goals of the team. Hunger is about not settling for the bare minimum but wanting to do more than is expected. 

Virtue #3 – Smart

Being smart does not refer to having a high IQ but rather to having emotional intelligence. Being smart is about having common sense around people, knowing what to say and what not to say, understanding how your actions affect people’s emotions, and most importantly, understanding that they matter. 

People Who Lack Two of the Virtues 

The three virtues might sound very simple, and they are! But you should think about what it looks like when someone lacks one or more. Patrick says the sad truth is that a person who lacks all of them is unlikely to even be applying for jobs but rather “trying to stay out of jail.”

However, during the interview phase, it’s important and often easy to spot a person who lacks two. See if you recognize any of the following types.

The Pawn (Humble Only) 

At best, someone who is just humble will do what you tell them to do alone and get the job done. But when it comes to teamwork, they struggle. They mean well, and they are kind at heart, but they just don’t know how to be around other people, and they lack hunger.

The Bulldozer (Hungry Only)

These people are not afraid of hard work. They are ambitious and can sometimes achieve great things. The problem is, they are not so fun to be around, as they completely lack humility and people skills. The good thing is you can usually spot these people from a mile away. 

The Charmer (Smart Only) 

If you’ve seen the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you know this type. Ferris is a typical charmer, he is very smart and impressed with himself. This is a person you might enjoy watching in a movie or talking to at a party but not someone you want to work with, as they are egoistical and a bit lazy.

Lacking two out of the three is very bad, says Patrick. But are people who only lack one any better?

People Who Lack One of the Virtues

Everyone has bad days, even bad weeks, which can affect our ability to be good team players. And, of course, everyone has weaknesses. We might be better at some virtues than others. But there are also people who just completely lack hunger, humility, or smartness. Next, Pat talked us through what that may look like.

The Accidental Mess-maker (Humble & Hungry) 

Patrick confesses this is the type he has the most patience for. Accidental mess-makers mean well, and they aren’t lazy, but they do and say things that frustrate others – and they don’t even realize it. They are like puppy dogs; adorable and lovable, but they keep knocking things over and making a mess. You love them, but having to constantly clean up after them gets frustrating.

The Lovable Slacker (Humble & Smart)  

The lovable slackers are also likable, they can be fun to be around as they are kind and not ego-driven. But their lack of hunger and ambition means they are only willing to do the bare minimum. These people can bring down the productivity of the whole team, as they are simply not pulling their weight.

The Skillful Politician (Hungry & Smart) 

This, Patrick warns, is the most dangerous type. The skillful politician usually interviews really well. They know how to say the right things and present themselves as a team player, but deep down, they are always angling for themselves. By the time you realize their true nature, “there is a trail of dead bodies throughout the organization.” Well, perhaps not literally, but figuratively they will throw their team under the bus for their own benefit.

Developing your current team 

Patrick’s key point is that in an ideal team, our team members would possess all three virtues. To achieve this, we can help our current team members to improve, or we can learn to spot the virtues when hiring. First, we took a look at some tips for developing your current team.

Go first

Leading by example is key. If you, as the leader, are willing to say which area you struggle with and should improve on, your team is much more willing to follow suit. It’s not easy to show vulnerability, especially in a work environment. Show your team it’s okay to be open and honest about weaknesses. This works even better if you ask for your team members to help you improve. 

“If the leader’s don’t do it, nobody else will do it.”

Help team members identify and acknowledge their area for improvement 

Once the leader goes first, it’s much easier for the team to follow and ask for help. Patrick says it’s magical what happens in a team when people are open about their vulnerabilities and ask for help from the other team members. This creates an atmosphere of psychological safety, and the team members start coaching each other to become better.

“Imagine how a team changes when one of the members admits something that everybody already knows, and asks the team to coach them. That kind of coaching is an act of love.”

Constantly remind them 

This is the difficult part. You, as the leader, must be willing to hold people accountable for the area they need and want to improve in. This will be uncomfortable, as people do not change their ways quickly. If someone has admitted they need to work on being hungry but still keeps leaving work early, it can be tempting to go vent to your partner instead of confronting them for the umpteenth time. However, you are letting them down by not confronting them when needed. Holding your team members accountable is supporting and loving them. If you don’t do it, you end up resenting them, and you only have yourself to blame. 

“When we don’t have the courage to remind people about the things they need to improve on, especially after they have admitted that they need to improve on, then we have no excuse and no one to blame but ourselves for what’s going on in our teams.”

Tips for hiring ideal team members

While it’s possible to improve and develop your current team, you should also think about the three virtues already when hiring new employees. The traditional ways of hiring don’t let you get to know the person on a deeper level. Patrick had some tips for us on how to spot the virtues – or the lack of them – during the hiring process.

Stop focusing on technical skills over behavioral skills

Instead of only focusing on the merits a potential candidate has on their CV, focus on finding out if this is the kind of person you would like to work with. Use the virtues – humble, hungry, and smart – for the anchors of what you are looking for.

”We have to stop focusing on their resume and experience and talk more about their behaviour, virtues and values.”

Conduct non-traditional interviews

The traditional interview setting doesn’t tell you anything about what a candidate is like as a person. So why not try an unconventional method instead? Taking someone out for breakfast and seeing how they react to getting the wrong order tells you much more about them than how they answer to a rehearsed question. Don’t wait for months or years to find out what your team members are like deep down.

“Get people out of the office and do something with them where you really understand their humanity and get a better glimpse of whether they are humble, hungry, and smart.”

Ask questions more than once 

If you have to ask questions, ask them more than once. Their first answer is the rehearsed one, but if you ask the question in a different way several times, you are more likely to get the truth out of them. Another great method is to ask questions from a different point of view. “What would your partner/colleague/friend say about this?” might give you a very different answer. 

“Something about constantly asking a person a question in different ways over time leads people to actually tell you the truth.”

Scare people with sincerity 

Pat says we should be so frank about how serious we are on being humble, hungry, and smart that if the person we interview lacks one, they don’t even want to work for us. You don’t have to be mean or intimidating, but be honest about how these virtues are at the core of everything you do and that you expect them of everyone. Someone who possesses the virtues will be excited to work with a team who shares their values, and someone who lacks them will get scared. And that’s okay! 

“We owe it to the people we are interviewing and to ourselves to find people who will fit our culture.”

Lastly, Patrick wanted to emphasize why these three virtues are so important in your team. Someone who is humble, hungry, and smart can learn any skill necessary to succeed in their role. Any technical skills or experience they are missing, you can teach them. But no amount of onboarding will help a person who lacks one or more of these important virtues.

Visual Summary of Patrick’s webinar made by Linda Saukko-Rauta

Patrick Lencioni is also one of the speakers at Nordic Business Forum 2023. If you want to hear more of Patrick’s insights on teamwork and organizational health, book your tickets now!

Nordic Business Forum 2023 will be held in Helsinki on 27-28 September. This year’s theme is Be:Change, which we will explore through the topics of leadership, innovation, and resilience. Ten keynote speakers and 5,400+ attendees are already joining the event, will you too?

See Patrick live at NBForum 2023


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