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Book Summary – The Ideal Team Player (Patrick Lencioni)

The Ideal Team Player - Book summary

Great teams are essential for success in any organization. To have great teams, you need great team players. In this book, Patrick Lencioni explains how to identify and cultivate the 3 essential virtues of the ideal team player, which are useful to anyone who’s part of a team or is leading a team. In this free version of The Ideal Team Player summary, we’ll briefly outline these 3 virtues and how they can be applied to facilitate great teamwork.

In his famous book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni laid out 5 sets of critical behaviors of great teamwork: building trust, mastering conflict, achieving commitment, embracing accountability, and focusing on results.  The 3 key virtues—being humble, hungry and smart—make it easier for people to embrace the five behaviors behind great teamwork.

An ideal team player should have all 3 virtues, since missing even 1 ingredient can make teamwork harder to achieve.  The book is structured in 2 parts: a business fable to illustrate the ideas, followed by an explanation of the 3 virtues. Here are some quick highlights!

The Ideal Team Player: The Fable

The story is about Jeff Shanley, who left his career at the Silicon Valley to help out in his uncle’s construction business in Napa. Jeff soon realized there was a gap between his uncle’s desire for strong teamwork in the organization versus the reality. With the help of 2 other capable executives, Jeff managed to identify the 3 key criteria for an ideal team player and used this new clarity to significantly strengthen the company’s culture and performance.

The fable illustrates some of the common challenges and dilemmas faced by leaders and team members, and how Jeff and his team managed to address them. Do get our complete 11-page summary for a detailed outline.

The Model: The 3 Virtues of an Ideal Team Player


Through his years of consulting work, Patrick Lencioni discovered that even if leaders want to embrace the 5 team fundamentals (building trust, mastering conflict, achieving commitment, embracing accountability, and focusing on results), they struggle to do so given entrenched cultures, daily fires and work challenges. People who possess the 3 virtues are much more likely to overcome the 5 team dysfunctions without significant coaching. So, it’s much easier to build great teams if you can identify, hire and cultivate ideal team players.


The ideal team player is humble, hungry and smart. People who have all 3 virtues are passionate about their work, go beyond their call of duty, and are willing to put the team above their own interests. They share the credit readily, make other team members feel appreciated and involved, yet are willing to hold themselves and others accountable for results and improvements.

Obviously, no one can demonstrate all 3 virtues all the time, and we’ll always be relatively weaker in some virtues compared to others. So long as someone has all 3 virtues to some degree, he/she is an ideal team player. However, if even 1 virtue is drastically lacking, it makes teamwork more difficult (or even impossible).

The Ideal Team Player Summary_The 3 virtues


Humility means focusing on the greater good, instead of focusing on yourself or having an inflated ego. Humble people are willing to own up to their failures or flaws, apologize for their mistakes, accept others’ apologies and can sincerely appreciate others’ strengths/skills. It’s the most important trait of being a great team player.


Being hungry means that you always seek more, e.g. to do more, learn more, or take on more responsibility.  Hungry people are self-motivated to work hard, take initiative and go beyond their call of duty.

Smart (or people-smart)

This means having common sense about people, i.e. being aware of and perceptive about other people, asking good questions, listening well and knowing how to respond effectively.

In our full 11-page summary, we (i) break down the nuances, common behavioral traits and signs of lack for each of the 3 virtues above, (ii) explain what happens if 1 or more of these virtues are missing, and (iii) elaborate on if/how such gaps can be addressed/nurtured.


You can find and cultivate ideal team players via 4 key processes in your organization.

The Ideal Team Player Summary_Applying the model

Hiring the Right People

Where possible, hire only ideal team players from the onset. Focus on behaviors that indicate the candidate is humble, hungry and smart. You can get more tips for interviewing and probing for these 3 virtues from the full version of The Ideal Player summary.

Assessing Current Employees

The 3 virtues are not inborn and can be nurtured. Assess your existing staff to identify (a) which ones are ideal team players, (b) which ones need help to develop 1 or more missing virtues, and (c) which ones may need to be moved out. In our full summary, we’ll touch on various assessments and approaches that can be used.

Developing Employees

Once employees have identified which virtue(s) they lack, you can jointly cultivate the missing virtue(s). In  the complete summary, you can find additional tips on how to develop humility, hunger and people-smarts.

Embedding the Model into Organizational Culture

Teamwork is not for everyone or every organization. It’s a deliberate choice. For an organization to prioritize teamwork, the top leaders must commit to it and walk the talk. The end-goal is for everyone in the organization to be able to articulate and uphold the culture.

Getting the Most from The Ideal Team Player

The 3 virtues of humility, hunger and people-smarts are not just relevant to work teams, employees and leaders. Parents, spouses or friends who have all 3 virtues will also be more effective in their personal interactions. If you wish to learn more about each of these 3 virtues, do check out our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, an 11-page text summary, and a 22-minute audio summary.

The Ideal Team Player summary - book summary bundle

The book also includes a list of interview questions and manager/employee assessment questions for each of the 3 virtues. You can purchase the book here or check out more resources/details at

[You can read up more about what Lencioni has to say about the 5 sets of critical behaviors in our The Five Dysfunctions of a Team summary.]

About the Author of The Ideal Team Player

The Ideal Team Player is written by Patrick Lencioni–an American author and consultant, best known for his works in business and team management. He is the president of The Table Group, a management consulting firm specializing in executive team development and organizational health. Previously, Lencioni worked at the management consulting firm Bain & Company, Oracle Corporation, and Sybase, where he was VP of Organization Development.

The Ideal Team Player Quotes

“Teamwork is not a virtue, but rather a choice.”

“When team members… possess significant humility, hunger, and people smarts…they enable teamwork by making it relatively easy for members to overcome the five dysfunctions of a team.”

“Praise is not only to reinforce the behavior in that employee, but also to reinforce it in everyone else.”

“Remember, we’re looking for ideal team players, not adequate ones.”

“Too many interviews are so generic that they provide little or no insight into specific attributes.”

Click here to download The Ideal Team Player summary & infographic

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