How to Develop an Ideal Team Player

October 25, 2016 Patrick Lencioni



Developing high-performing teams is critical to business success, but it has to start with nurturing the individual's teamwork virtues. Here's some advice on where to begin.

Get the Team Involved

Ideal team players possess a harmonious blend of humility, hunger and people smarts. "Ideal" in this context, however, does not mean "perfect." Even people who aren’t terribly deficient in any of these areas can benefit from finding ways to improve.

As a manager, it can be awkward to point out flaws and areas for improvement in your employees. It’s important to remember that development is a necessary and continual part of the managerial process. When these goals become a seamless part of career development, they can be beneficial for employees who are decidedly lacking in a particular virtue -- and positive for the team as a whole.

How to Develop Humility

Humility is the most sensitive of the three virtues. It is rooted in one’s sense of self, which is why the process of improving in this area is often the most nuanced. That’s because the source of a lack of humility is always related in some way to insecurity. Managers can help cultivate an employee’s capacity for humility by encouraging them to get to the root cause of insecurity and to play the part of a humble colleague.

Get to the Root Cause

Whether it’s a setback in life or a troubled past, figuring out the general cause of someone’s insecurity can help put her more at ease and open the door to future conversations. Personality profiles like Myers-Briggs or DISC can identify and even connect employees who are more prone to feeling insecure. The results of such profiles provide a rational, objective framework from which to build upon.

Play the Part

When people simply act as if they are humble -- asking questions, complimenting others and being good listeners -- they can experience the benefits of humility, including an uptick in their own happiness as a result of focusing on others. Ask your employee to make a list of desired behaviors related to this area of development and track his progress over time. You can act as a coach in this process, providing immediate feedback when humility is either demonstrated or lacking.

How to Develop Hunger

Hunger is the least sensitive and nuanced of the three virtues, but it can also be the hardest to change. It’s one thing to set goals and motivate employees to increase productivity, but it’s quite another feat to change someone so that he embodies the self-motivation and desire to go the extra mile. Many people lacking in hunger actually do want to be more productive and engaged at work. Managers can cultivate that hunger by lighting a flame around the mission and setting clear expectations.

Light a Flame

Employees who lack hunger may need help connecting their jobs to the overall mission of the team or organization. Managers can set an example by describing their personal motivation for their work and connection to the mission.

Set Expectations

To develop hunger, it’s important to establish performance targets and behavioral expectations. Managers must then hold their employees accountable to these targets, be unafraid to remind them of expectations, and acknowledge growth when they see it.

How to Develop Smarts

Individuals who are deficient in "people smarts" don’t intentionally want to cause problems in the workplace. In fact, they are most likely oblivious to how they are perceived by their team. It’s a manager’s job to gently guide them on the path to greater self-awareness by getting the team involved and covering the basics of expected behavior.

Cover the Basics

Those with insufficient people smarts need to be quickly redirected as soon as you notice areas for improvement. For example, you can remind this person to thank a colleague for help with a project -- a social nicety she may not initiate without your cue.

Regardless of which traits you want to see flourish in your employees, demonstrating these virtues yourself goes a long way. Managers who can admit their own shortcomings, model desired behavior, and show signs of professional growth over time encourage their team players to do the same.

In his first new book in nearly four years, bestselling author and acclaimed storyteller Patrick Lencioni returns with a compelling new title that furthers his innovative work with teams. Published in 2002, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team offered a groundbreaking approach for managing group dynamics. In Lencioni’s latest work, The Ideal Team Player: A Leadership Fable About How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues (Jossey-Bass; hardcover; April 2016), he takes readers inside a fictional California construction company to reveal the three indispensable virtues that make some people better team players than others.

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