Alicja Colon

The Ideal Team Player

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You know that feeling you get after you give someone advice? You wonder simultaneously if it made sense and if the person will use it.

I recently had that feeling when talking to a design colleague, Yegor, co-founder of  Zajno. Except I knew the information presented not only made sense, but what I shared was solid. I can thank Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Ideal Team Player, for that. My only lingering question was if my friend would implement the advice.

Yegor asked how Focus Lab recruits team members. His company had bloomed to ten, but from what I understood, that ten was an organic growth of friends.

“Those friends, while perfectly chill hangout buds, weren’t the best fit from an organizational standpoint. ”

“Well,” I asked, “Are they humble, hungry, and smart?”  “Huh?” was his response. I explained that in addition to fitting with your business’s core values or standards (these are Focus Lab’s), your team members need to be humble, hungry or passionate, and people-smart. Lencioni masterfully outlines this in his book. Opening the lesson with a realistic narrative to explain the ingredients of an ideal team player, he concludes with a meaty summation of his theories.


Humility is the key ingredient to the ideal recipe. Generally humble teammates aren’t concerned about status but are quick to point out the merits of others.They put the team over themselves and are gems to collaborate with. Lencioni clarifies that there are two types of people who wrestle with humility: those who are overtly arrogant, and others who lack self-confidence. The first often plows through others, while the second won’t fight for their ideas.


Hungry people are passionate. Interested in learning and doing and not shying away from more responsibility, these team members are self-motivators. Just like there’s a flip side to humility, hunger, too, has an ugly side. Hunger can be driven by a selfish ambition instead of a team-oriented perspective. This type of hunger can deteriorate a team and destroys trust. Another form of hunger is where work becomes a person’s identity, consuming all aspects of their life.


Though it can be confusing, “smart” here isn’t referring to intellectual capabilities, but interpersonal skills. Smart people can read a room and understand what’s appropriate to galvanize them into a direction. Unfortunately, some smart people use their abilities to manipulate others to their will.

“It’s not one or two that makes the magic, but the combination of all three positive trait manifestations that makes your team sing.”

Within the book’s conclusion, Lencioni thoughtfully reviews each attribute and highlights what happens when one of the complements are missing. He provides plenty of suggestions on how to address the lack of these attributes within a team player. My favorite insight, though, was how to look for them during job candidates’ interviews.

During the story, there’s an urgent high-profile position to be filled. The team members have finally figured out the three attributes the potential candidate must have to fit the position: humility, hunger, and smartness. With one lead in their scope, how do they conduct the interview? What the characters come up with is both surprising and insightful. But there won’t be any spoilers here; you have to read it for yourself.

So what about Yegor – did he use the advice? I glad to report he did. Ultimately it meant he had to remove a team member. As we talked through it, he understood it was for the betterment of team culture, client experience, and the team member.

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