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What makes the ideal team player?

Team player characteristics: Patrick Lencioni says team players should be humble, hungry and emotionally smart

Employers often talk about the importance of team players and being able to identify the characteristics of such valuable people is key to hiring and developing them.

At the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference in New Orleans, keynote speaker Patrick Lencioni’s topic was the ideal team player. He started off with a quote from Samuel Johnson: “People need to be reminded more, they need to be instructed.”

He talked of advances in business such as technology and said: “This is the golden age of human resources.” He emphasised the importance of teamwork saying it “is such a huge competitive advantage”, and that it is “a strategic decision we have to make”.

The title of his first book was The Five Functions of a Team. He talked about these which he said were: inattention to results, avoidance of accountability, lack of commitment, fear of conflict and absence of trust. This encouraged him to write The Ideal Team Player.

Traits of the ideal team player

According to Lencioni the ideal team player must have the following three traits:

1. Humble: a humble person doesn’t discount this ability, they are not arrogant or egotistical.

2. Hungry: they always want to do more but they’re not workaholics.

3. Smart: not intellectually but emotionally — they understand how other people may respond.

It’s the combination of these three that’s important. Therefore it’s important that we hire people with all three traits. He looked at some of the consequences if our potential hires don’t have all three traits.

One for threes

He spoke of “one for threes”, that is if a person has just one of the three values, for example just humble without being hungry or smart, they don’t get the work done. These people are known as pawns.

If someone is just hungry and not humble or smart other team members don’t want to work with this person. He/she is known as a bulldozer and you have to count the opportunity cost of keeping the bulldozer on the team.

The person who is just smart but not humble and hungry is known as a charmer. These people have good people skills but again don’t get the work done.

Two for threes

These people are just missing one of the necessary traits. A person who’s humble and hungry but lacks emotional intelligence is known as an accidental mess-maker. There’s a cost to having such people on the team.

A person who’s humble and smart is known as the loveable slacker; they don’t get things done — “he was very passionate but not about his work”, is what we hear said about this person. He/she needs to go some place where their passions fit in.

A person who is hungry and smart but not humble is known as the skilful politician; they’re not good for your company. This person comes out smelling like a rose and his/her team-mates take the fault. You do not want to hire them.

Model tips for developing current team members

Mr Lencioni suggests the following ideas:

• Go first, analyse yourself first, be renewable and take the leap of faith. Look at your own areas for improvement.

• Then help team members identify and acknowledge their areas for improvement. We should make this less about us and more about other people.

• The leader has to be willing to constantly remind people of their areas for improvement. They have to know there’s no place to run and no place to hide. People have to be reminded if they’re not performing. “When we don’t remind them we’re begging them not to change. People will leave if they’re constantly being reminded. We can’t let them off the hook.

Tips for hiring ideal team players

• Stop focusing on technical skills and measurable. He used as an example the NFL draft where they just look at technical skills.

• Improve interviewing — avoid siloed interviews: several people interview and then decide if it’s a thumbs up or down. It’s better to have a team interview who can then all discuss afterwards.

• Conduct non-traditional interviews. Get them out of the office to see how they act in the real world. Take the time such as going to a restaurant — get there early, tip the waiter and ask them to bring a wrong order and see how the interviewee deals with it.

• Ask questions more than once. If you have a nagging doubt, don’t give in, keep at it. Ask those questions again and again.

• Scare people with sincerity. “If that’s not the type of person you are, you’re not going to like the job.” Help people to make the decision “this job is not for me”.

For South West Airlines a sense of humour is a core value. Interviewees can be told: “We’re doing the second part of the interview in khaki shorts.” If you tolerate people who are not team players then you’ll lose good people. The point here is that you need to hire people who buy into your organisation’s values.

As HR people you need to remember you are serving people and you are changing people’s lives.

Lencioni left the stage with a “God bless you all”.

Paul Loftus is a Montreal-based industrial/organisational psychologist, an intercultural consultant and a freelance journalist. He has been conducting both public and in-company management development seminars in Bermuda for over 20 years. He can be reached at (514) 282-9111; ploftus@colba.net; www.paulloftus.com