Over the last few years, as I have participated in interviewing potential team members, I have always had a gnawing question in the back of my mind. And that question has been how do I assess if this candidate sitting in front of me will be a good team fit in addition to being a high performer. The resume skimming and standard interview process seemed to be inadequate to measure this intangible skill of being a top performing team player. Because of this apparent inadequacy in measuring what it means to be a team player, I was apprehensive anytime people would use this terminology in what they were looking for in their new hires or when I heard employees being encouraged to be team players.

More often that not we know how a team player does not behave rather than how they should behave to be an ideal team player

Being a team player is a favorite topic in every team and organization but in my experience implementing a framework that leads to the identification and the hiring of a team player has been a failure. Not because we all don’t want to hire and retain team players but because the concept of being a team player is a very vague concept for most managers and leaders. We all want team players on our teams. But we have no concrete way of identifying them in a hiring situation or in our existing groups.

We generally categorize someone as not being a team player when they display egregious non-team player like behavior. And thus more often than not we know how a team player does not behave rather than how they should behave to be an ideal team player.

While in that state of apprehension, I came across a book called The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni where the author lays out what it looks like to identify, hire and retain team players. While I started out reading the book with apathy, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he laid out for his reader’s concrete qualities that make a good team player. While not comprehensive I believe it gives us a robust and simple framework that you can quickly integrate into your leadership toolkit.

Without going into the entire premise of the book, here are some key points that were helpful to me that I plan on using going forward. Lencioni gives us 3 traits to look for to assess if a person is a team player. He says team players are Hungry, Humble and Smart. He develops this idea and lays out practical steps on how to use that definition to bring in team players into your team and also how to help coach non-team players to become team players. All 3 are necessary to be an ideal team player.

Below is a brief description that sums up my understanding of the 3 virtues laid out by Lencioni.

  1. Hungry: This captures a person’s drive to be excellent. To go above and beyond the required job duties to execute projects or to delight the customer. The drive to learn and get better at their job without prodding and pushing from managers.
  2. Humble: Humble is capturing the idea where a person sees their success and failures as learning experiences and is down to earth in their approach and interaction with others irrespective of their economic or social status.
  3. Smart: Rather than measuring IQ, this trait actually captures a person’s ability to interact well with other people. Whether it is empathizing with someone or relating to them, being people smart is an essential ingredient for team players.

If you find this framework helpful as I have, here are three 3 ways you can incorporate this into your hiring practice or into assessing if you have a team of team players on your existing team.

  1. Discuss with leaders and managers that participate in hiring to see if these 3 traits are what make a team player for your setting
  2. Share with your leadership team to see if this rubric can be used when evaluating future hires
  3. Evaluate current team members with this rubric and use it to assess your current team members to see who is lacking in which quality

In summary, to hire a team player look for drive, competence, humility, and empathy and you will be off to an excellent start in building a team full of competent team players

Lencioni, Patrick. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2016.

Author: Stanley John is an Analytics Client Consultant in the healthcare space. His expertise in business analytics, data science, and consulting has supported over a hundred Providers & Clients in the industry.

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