What makes an ideal team player?  What qualities would you want them to demonstrate?  How do you assess job applicants or even current members of your team, to make sure that they have the qualities you want?  

I frequently get asked these questions because it is a constant challenge for managers to select the best candidates for the job, especially in a very tight labour market.  The cost of getting it wrong can be very high.  The other day I was speaking to a senior manager who told me that shortly after he joined a business he had to remove a middle-manager who was causing a lot of damage.  There was massive inconsistency in this manager’s department due to his management style and his behaviour was causing very high labour turnover.  It was also causing unnecessary friction with other departments.  A previous manager had employed him and not addressed the issue allowing it to fester.  This can sometimes happen because of our personal biases and it is not unusual to go into denial about the initial bad decision to hire that individual in the first place.  It can also be that the thought of having to replace a manager is just too stressful to think about.  However, all of this can be avoided by taking some care with recruitment in the first place. 

Eligibility and Suitability

While it is relatively easy to assess the ‘eligibility’ of a candidate by checking their CV and references, it is far trickier to measure their ‘suitability’.  Eligibility defines the key skills, experience and qualifications that show a person has the capability to do the job.  Suitability looks at whether the individual is a good fit for the role, including the culture and values of the business.  It is important to be able to check suitability and assess if candidates have the right combination of traits that ensure they will enjoy the role and become passionate about it because it plays to their natural strengths.  It is also important to assess if their behavioural tendencies are a good fit with the way you want people to interact with one another.

The good news is that it’s now possible to create a ‘Job Success Formula’ (JSF) that allows you to build a bespoke template of suitability for a specific role.  The JSF helps you to specify the Essential and Desirable Traits required for success in the role as well as the Traits to Avoid. 

Critical and Important

Essential traits are critical to success in the role.  For example, in an accounting role, you would probably want someone who enjoys being Precise, Analytical and Organised.  If they don’t enjoy these traits they will not enjoy the role.  There are now over 30 years of research by people like the psychologist and mathematician Dr Dan Harrison, the neuroscientist Dr Paul Zac and others which demonstrates that there is a very strong correlation between people enjoying their job and being good at it.  There is also concrete evidence that when people enjoy their job they are more engaged with the business and what it is trying to achieve.  Enjoyment creates a virtuous cycle where people are engaged and passionate about what they are doing so they give their discretionary effort and go beyond the minimum required.  This motivates them to learn and grow which helps them get even better at it.  This leads to recognition and appreciation which leads to even more enjoyment.

 Desirable traits are important but only as long as there is a minimum level of enjoyment of that trait.  The level does not need to be very high like the Essential traits but if a Desirable trait it is missing it can cause problems.  For example, in one case-study the traits of Parking Attendants were assessed using a benchmarking process.  This process correlates high and low scoring traits of job holders with objective performance data.  It was discovered that high and very high scores of the trait ‘Helpful’ did not have a big impact on performance.  However, low and very low scores in ‘Helpful’ showed a correlation with the lowest performance scores.  This means that as long as the people in the benchmarking study had a moderate enjoyment of being helpful they performed well in the role (as well as having the right combination of other traits). This exercise identified the trait of ‘Helpful’ as ‘Desirable’ for that role. 

Traits to Avoid are traits that will have a detrimental impact on performance in a specific role.  For example, in the role of Receptionist, a person scoring high on ‘Defensive’, ‘Blunt’ and ‘Harsh’ will probably not perform to the required standard.  Traits to Avoid can be added to a JSF and weighted.  For example, in the case of a Personal Assistant, you may define that even a slight amount of Defensiveness is detrimental and will have a negative impact.  But in the case of a construction worker, a moderate amount of bluntness (but not a high amount) can be tolerated.

The Virtues of a Team Player

In his latest book the best-selling author and authority on team-working, Patrick Lencioni, has written about the characteristics of the Ideal Team Player.  He calls them virtues and labels them as; Humble, Hungry and Smart. 

According to Lencioni, Humble team-players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek recognition for themselves..  They share credit, emphasize team over self and define success collectively rather than individually.  Interestingly they are not afraid to honestly acknowledge the skills and talents they bring to the team, though never in a proud or boastful way. 

Hungry team-players are highly self-motivated, eager to succeed and want to be part of a successful team.  They are always looking for more: more things to do, more to learn, more responsibility to take on.  They almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent.  They are constantly thinking about the next step and the next opportunity.  They eagerly look around corners for ways to help the team succeed. 

Smart Team Players are able to use their interpersonal skills to get the best from the others they work with because they are ‘people-smart’.   They have common sense about people and are emotionally intelligent.  They tend to know what is happening in a group situation and how to deal with others in the most effective way.  They have good judgment and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and the impact of words and actions.  They understand how their own language and behaviour impacts others. 

Critical Analysis

The three virtues were analysed by Anne Sandberg one of the Managing Partners at Harrison Assessments International.  The Harrison Assessments instrument has 175 factors which can be combined into Job Success Formulas as mentioned above.  The traits can also be combined into unique ‘Behavioural Competencies’ that can be used to assess the behavioural tendencies of an individual.  Each Behavioural Competency is built by skilfully selecting the Essential, Desirable and Traits to Avoid that correlate to the desired behaviours in the competency.  Sandberg used this methodology to carefully select the key traits that make it possible to measure and assess each of Lencioni’s three virtues.    

For example, listed below are just a few of the traits that Sandberg and her colleagues selected for each category of the Behavioural Competencies for the Virtues.  (There are more traits in each virtue and if you would like a demonstration or sample report please contact me at Info@InspiredWorking.com)  


Essential: Open/Reflective, Self-improvement, Collaborative

Desirable: Helpful, Cause Motivated, Frank

Traits to Avoid: Blunt, Authoritarian, Defensive



Essential: Takes Initiative, Wants Challenge, Enthusiastic

Desirable: Optimistic, Handles Autonomy, Experimenting

Traits to Avoid: Non-finishing, Defers Decisions, Unresourceful


Essential: Enlists Cooperation, Influencing, Analytical

Desirable: Diplomatic, Healthy Self-esteem, Intuitive

Traits to Avoid: Blindly Optimistic, Insensitive, Evasive

Greater Insights

Being able to assess the qualities behavioural tendencies of your job applicants’ means you have far greater insights about what you can expect from them in the workplace.  If you use a Job Success Formula or Behavioural Competencies you can more accurately predict success in the role.  For a relatively small investment up-front you can avoid costly errors like the one mentioned at the beginning of this article. 

One of the most powerful aspects of the Harrison approach is that it has development built into it.  Many of the key traits in the system have coaching and development exercises that Line-managers can use to coach new people or current team members to develop the specific traits that will help them become an Ideal Team Player and demonstrate all of Lencioni’s virtues. 

Many wise managers and leaders are now using this methodology to not only increase their own self-awareness and the self-awareness of their people but to develop and enhance performance.  Because when we are aware of our strengths and potential blind-spots we are in a position to make better choices about the way we behave.  We also become more motivated to learn and grow because it is clear what good looks like and what we need to improve to achieve it.  By being mindful of our own tendencies and the tendencies of others we can be more effective in our communication and improve team-working throughout the organisation. This creates a natural desire to become better tomorrow than we were today.  

If you are interested in exploring how to use the approaches mentioned above to identify and develop Ideal Team Players just give me a shout. 

Remember  . . . stay curious! 

With kind regards

David Klaasen

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