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  • Writer's pictureTony Nguyen

The Ideal team player

“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less” - C S Lewis

Towards the latter half of the noughties I relocated from Australia to the US and at the same time accepted a Director role at Symantec. Moving countries, jobs, and adjusting to the transition from a start-up into an Enterprise software company left me with serious imposter syndrome. It was my first real introduction to corporate politics and I remember going searching for meaning amongst the thousands of leadership books that were becoming quite popular at the time.

My first pass through the “5 dysfunctions of a team” resonated with me deeply as I recognised all of the symptoms described in my leadership team at the time. In hindsight, that book influenced my own leadership style more than I realised.

Fast forward 10 or so years, and Patrick Lencioni (the author) made his first trip to Australia for a leadership summit, and I took the opportunity to attend. What follows are some of the points Patrick makes in his book – “the ideal team player”...

When I joined Equal Experts 6 months ago, what really struck me was the deep expertise combined with the humbleness of the people I met. I drew the quick diagram below for a previous blog post and was pleasantly surprised to see similar concepts covered by Patrick.

Patrick mentioned that his own company only had 3 virtues or values they held. They had narrowed it down to their "trapdoor" values - Which one's would they actually hold people accountable for?

For them, it was:

"When team members possess humility, hunger and people smarts, they enable team work by making it relatively easy for members to overcome the five dysfunctions of a team. They are more likely to be vulnerable and build trust, engage in productive abut uncomfortable conflict, commit to group decisions even if they initially disagree, hold their peers accountable when they see performance gaps and put the results of the team ahead of their own needs…"

Their “ideal team player” is one that encompasses all 3 virtues:


Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They 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 people are always looking for more – more things to do, more to learn, more responsibility to take on. They never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder as they are self- motivated and diligent. (Not to be confused with workaholic…)They are constantly thinking about the next step and the next opportunity. Hunger, here refers to one of a healthy kind – a manageable and sustainable commitment in doing a job well and going above and beyond when it is truly required


Smarts refers to a person’s 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 ask good questions, listen to what others are saying and stay engaged in conversations intently. Smart people have good judgement and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and the impact of their words or action.

But what took his presentation to the next level was his ability to take a complex problem and simplify it in a way that was resonated with the audience.

Can you identify people in your workplace that predominantly land in one area?

Humble Only – The Pawn

People who are only humble, but not at all hungry or smart are the “pawns” on a team. They are pleasant, kind-hearted unassuming people who just don’t feel a great need to get things done and don’t have the ability to build effective relationships with colleagues. They often get left out of conversations and activities and have little impact on the performance of a team. Pawns don’t make waves, so they can survive quite a long time on teams that value harmony and don’t demand performance.

Hungry Only – The Bulldozer

These people will be determined to get things done, but with a focus on their own interests and with no understanding or concern for how their actions impact others.Bulldozers are quick destroyers of teams In organizations that place a premium on production alone, bulldozers can thrive and go uncorrected for long periods of times.

Smart only – The Charmer

People who are smart, but sorely lacking in humility and hunger are “charmers” They can be entertaining and even likeable for a while, but have little interest in the long-term well-being of the team. Their social skills can sometimes help them survive longer than bulldozers or pawns, but often their contributions to the teams are negligible, they often wear out their welcome quickly.

Can you identify the area you need to work on the most?

Humble and Hungry, but not Smart – The Accidental Mess maker

They genuinely want to serve the team and are not interested in getting a disproportionate amount of credit and attention. However, their lack of understanding of how their words are actions are received by others in the team will lead to interpersonal problems. While colleagues will respect their work ethic and sincere desire to be helpful, those colleagues can get tired of having to clean up the emotional and interpersonal problems that this group often leaves behind. Accidental Mess Makers have no bad intentions and can usually take corrective feedback in good humour

Humble and Smart, but not Hungry – The Lovable Slacker

They aren’t looking for undeserved attention, and they are adept at working with and caring about colleagues Unfortunately, they tend to do only as much as they are asked and rarely seek to take on more work or volunteer for extra assignments They have limited passion for the work the team is doing Lovable slackers need significant motivation and oversight, making them a drag on the team’s performance, more so than accidental mess makers.

Hungry and smart, but not Humble – The Skillful Politician

These people are cleverly ambitious and willing to work extremely hard, but only in as much as it will benefit them personally.Because they are smart, skilful politicians, they are adept in portraying themselves as being humble, making it hard for leaders to identify them and address their destructive behaviours. By the time the leader sees what’s going on, the politician may have created a trail of destruction among their more humble colleagues.

Humble, Hungry and Smart - The Ideal Team Player

Ideal team players possess adequate measures of humility, hunger and people smarts.They have little ego when it comes to needing attention or credit for their contributions, and they are comfortable sharing their accolades.Ideal team players work with a sense of energy, passion and personal responsibility, taking on whatever they possibly can for the good of the team.They do and say the right things to help team mates feel appreciated, understood and included even when difficult situations arise that require tough love.

So apart from being interesting and a little simplistic, how can you apply this?

Well, it was useful for me to realise that I'm a recovering loveable slacker and that I've put a lot of personal processes in place to ensure that weakness doesn't manifest too often. I hope you might be able to self-recognise traits in yourself that you can improve on.

It's also helped simplify how I conduct the leadership/consulting interviews to "test" for these areas. The second link below from Geoff has some great advice on that. Even though we hire experts - As the saying goes - it's "teamwork that makes the dream work..."

NOTE: Because I'm now a self-identified loveable slacker, regurgitating the summary of the book would have been a waste of time when it has already been done multiple times online. So the majority of this post has been "borrowed with pride" and sincere thanks from:

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