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Consultant Patrick Lencioni says for him, the ideal team player is someone who is humble, hungry and smart.

istockphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Ideal Team Player

By Patrick Lencioni

(Jossey-Bass, 218 pages, $30)

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Valley Builders, a California construction company, nearly hired Ted Marchbanks, since he seemed to have the experience to help guide the two major building projects it had just landed. But at the last moment he pulled out, worried by the company's leaders' insistence they wanted people who were "humble, hungry and smart" – qualities they saw as essential to the team.

"I had my doubts about his humility," Bobby Brady, head of field operations, who had avidly pushed for Mr. Marchbanks, admitted afterward. "But when you're desperate …"

Clare Massic, who oversaw administration, finished his sentence for him: "You do stupid things."

That anecdote is fictional, part of consultant Patrick Lencioni's latest book, The Ideal Team Player. But the experience of hiring someone out of desperation and later regretting the decision may be all too real for you.

To avoid that, Mr. Lencioni believes you need to define what the ideal team player looks like. For him, being humble, hungry and smart are three ultimate virtues. And it's not fiction or conjecture but a practical formula he has followed at his own company, the Table Group, and with many of its clients.

Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. Mr. Lencioni believes humility is the most indispensable attribute of being a team player. "What's amazing is that so many leaders who value teamwork will tolerate people who aren't humble. They reluctantly hire self-centred people and then justify it because those people have desired skills.

Or they see arrogant behaviour in an employee and fail to confront it, often citing that person's individual contributions as an excuse," he writes. But the impact on the team proves destructive.

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Hungry people are always looking to do more. They are self-motivated and diligent. They are constantly thinking of the next step and the next opportunity, not waiting for their boss to push them and provide all the direction.

The third ingredient is not intellectual smarts but the individual's common sense about other people. Smart people are interpersonally appropriate and aware. "Smart people tend to know what is happening in a group situation and how to deal with others in the most effective way. They ask good questions, listen to what others are saying and stay engaged in conversations intently," he writes. It may sound like emotional intelligence, but he says it's simpler than that: It's displaying good judgment and intuition about group dynamics and understanding the impact of their words on others.

He acknowledges these virtues aren't novel. Indeed, each one can be highly valued. "What makes humble, hungry and smart powerful and unique is not the individual attributes themselves but rather the required combination of all three. If even one is missing in a team member, teamwork becomes significantly more difficult and sometimes not possible," he stresses.

That means you must search intently for that combination when hiring. In candidate interviews, the key is to not allow the questions to be so generic they don't provide any insight into the three virtues. Often, somebody seems nice and he says that would be fine if you were hiring an individual to mow your lawn once a week, but it's not enough for a member of your work team. Share what you learned immediately after the interview so if the candidate is going through a second round, the next interviewer will know where to focus.

He has heard the best way to know whether you should hire someone is to go on a cross-country trip with the candidate. That may not be possible, but try a non-traditional interview, asking the candidate to accompany you on an errand, since spending time in the car and the store will be revealing. Ask the candidate how others would assess them: "If I were to ask your colleagues to assess your humility, what would they say?"

Don't ignore hunches. "If you have doubt about a person's humility or smarts, don't ignore it. More often than not, there is something causing that doubt," he says. And as in the anecdote described from the book, make it clear you are fanatically committed to the three principles and if the employee doesn't share that commitment, it may not be the best workplace for them.

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Make the three virtues a key element of your corporate culture, applying them in your assessment of employees and developing those who are lacking one or more of the virtues. He stresses that humility, hunger and smarts are not inherent traits but can be adopted by people with the desire to embrace them.

The book begins with a dramatic fable outlining the ideas and closes with a 60-page section (often missed by less-savvy fable writers) explaining the model in detail. As always with Mr. Lencioni, it is entertaining and inspiring. It's a nice fit with his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and can help make your work unit more effective.


Consultant Dan Pontefract, of Telus Transformation Office, shows how to build meaning into your role and your organization in The Purpose Effect (Elevate, 242 pages, $29.95).

Ron Wallace went from delivery driver to president of UPS International and shares what he learned in Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver (Berrett-Koehler, 146 pages, $29.95).

Scott Berinato, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, presents a guide to making more effective data visualizations in Good Charts (Harvard Business Review Press, 253 pages, $38.99).

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Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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