Opinion Column

Are you really an ideal team player?

By Larry Schruder, The Delfi Group

This week's column wraps up the current series of articles focusing on teamwork. Today we get right to the heart of the matter by exploring ideas about what constitutes the ideal team player.

Teams are made up of individual people - and the reality is that some individuals are better suited to contributing to strong team performance than others. Some individuals are able to easily add real value in a team environment and require much less management and coaching to be effective in their roles. One of the most noted current authors on the principles of effective teams (Pat Lencioni) has just released a new book "The Ideal Team Player" that dives into this topic very effectively.

Lencioni speaks of three virtues or characteristics that bubble over in ideal team players: humility, hunger for results and people smarts. Although these attributes can be fine tuned with time and practice, the ideal team player has been living these virtues in a visible way since early life.

The most important of these virtues is humility. Humble people do not think less of themselves, they simply think of themselves less. A humble person is more concerned with the success of the team than with getting credit for his or her contributions. Although humble individuals are not afraid to demonstrate or acknowledge the special abilities and talents that they bring to the team, they never do so in a proud or boastful way. They do not behave as if the team is lucky to have them on board. They are not overtly arrogant , braggart or in constant need of attention. They are quick to celebrate the strengths and achievements of others while retaining a healthy self confidence about their own contribution potential. They simply think of themselves less.

The second virtue of an ideal team player is the possession of a healthy hunger for results. Such players have the desire to work hard and do whatever it takes to achieve the goals of the team. They are self-motivated and never need to be prodded into action. They are invaluable to a team because they are always looking around the next corner to see what could be, or has to be done. They have both the energy and the desire to take on new responsibilities and fill necessary gaps. They are hard not to appreciate because of their energy and contribution.

The third virtue of an ideal team player is being smart - not necessarily in an intellectual sense - but in dealing with people. These individual have a natural ease and common-sense approach to dealing with people and have a good appreciation and sensitivity for the impact of their words and actions on others. They understand the subtle nuances of team dynamics - and with their good sense of judgment and intuition, they are able to deal with others in a very effective way.

The complicating factor is the need to have a healthy dose of all three of these attributes in the same person. Having only one or two out of the three attributes can create real team problems. A team member that has only humility, but lacks hunger and people smarts, ends up being used by the team - almost as a pawn in a chess game. The presence of only hunger leads to a bulldozer - chasing results without a sensitivity to impact - like a bull in a china shop. These members seldom last long on the team as they really have no need for other team members, who appear to be always in the road. A team member that is only people smart, is a charmer, who builds shallow relationships and never really focuses on the tasks to be done.

The presence of two out of three can be equally challenging to team dynamics and performance. A humble and hungry team member may accomplish a great deal, but the lack of interpersonal smarts earns this person the title "accidental mess maker" as they leave a trail of people messes all around them, that someone else has to clean up. A person who is smart and humble fits the description of a "lovable slacker" - a person who does as little as possible and always needs to be asked to do more. A team member who is hungry and smart but lacks humility is more like the "skilled politician" who has both the polished style and the aggressive pursuit of success - but more for addressing self-centered needs for grandiosity than team success.

Three virtues - humility, hunger for results and people smarts - all are required attributes of the Ideal team player. These are important to reflect on as we are all team players on someone's team. These are important as well because it is no coincidence that these are the same attributes of strong participants in our workplaces, social clubs and in broader society. With attention and practice, you can search out these skills as you assemble teams - and yes, there are some assessment tools that can help you do so. As an individual team player, you can practice and hone these skills so they become a regular part of your personal offerings to others. Be an ideal team player - for your own good, the good of your team, and the betterment of your community.

Larry Schruder is president and co-owner of The Delfi Group, Pembroke and can be reached at larry.schruder@thedelfigroup.com.