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Recognizing and Hiring True Team Players

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 06/21/2017

ID and hire team players
During his keynote presentation at SHRM Conference, Patrick Lencioni discussed the "golden age in HR," an organizational department that's in a prime position to get smart people working well together. Keep reading to learn the three universal personality traits Lencioni outlined. Can you identify the Humble, Hungry, and Emotionally Smart people in your organization?

Table of Contents

This is the best time ever to be in HR, according to Patrick Lencioni of The Table Group. His presentation, How to Identify and Attract Ideal Team Players, based on his book of the same name, was a keynote on day two of the 2017 SHRM Conference and Exposition.

Mr. Lencioni explained that the reason it’s a golden age in HR is that while marketing, finance, and other areas of an organization are smart, they don’t know how to get smart people working well together; that’s where they’re turning to human resources for their expertise, and HR is shining.

Identifying Employee Personality Traits

Teamwork is a strategic decision that has real costs and benefits. If you’re all-in on teamwork, you’ll have a great chance to make a positive impact on the organization. So, how can HR help an organization identify and attract team players? Mr. Lencioni recounted some core values that his company had developed for itself, but had soon found that clients could benefit from as well. These universal employee values included:

  • Humble – Considered the most important employee trait. The problem is that sometimes we think humble means the opposite of arrogance. A humble person doesn’t discount their abilities. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis
  • Hungry – These employees always want to do more, and are looking for more ways to contribute. They’re not workaholics, just people who like to get things done and who are not easily satisfied. This trait may be the most difficult to teach later in life, according to Mr. Lencioni.
  • Emotionally smart – Book smart is a different trait. These are people who have common sense around other human beings. They understand and empathize with how their words and actions might cause other people to respond.

Ideal team members would display all three of the core traits. While these people do exist, it’s much more likely that employees will have one or a combination of traits. Here’s how Mr. Lencioni broke them down.

People who have an extreme of only one of the three core values should be avoided when hiring or assembling a team. They include:

  • “The Pawn” – They’re just humble. They could be great people, but they may not push ahead at all, or know how their words or actions might affect others. They’re not great team players, and they’re easily taken advantage of.
  • “The Bulldozer” – These people are just hungry. They get a lot done, but they’re not humble or emotionally smart. They may anger other members of the team, and they have a high opportunity cost.
  • “The Charmer” – They’re just emotionally smart. Like Ferris Bueller in the eponymous ‘80s movie, Charmers are a mixture of arrogance and laziness – not a personality that lends itself to effective teams.

People who have two of the values, but egregiously lack one, may make good team members. But be wary. Here’s how they may be categorized:

  • “The Accidental Mess-Maker” – These people are not great with others, but get things done and are humble. They may rub people the wrong way, but they ultimately mean well.
  • “The Loveable Slacker” – People who are humble and emotionally smart, but not hungry, may be very passionate … just not about work. We like them and they care about the people on the team, they just don’t get a lot done. While other team members may like them, they’re often frustrated, because they’re always doing The Loveable Slacker’s work for them.
  • “The Skillful Politician” – Mr. Lencioni says you should run when you meet these team members who are hungry and emotionally smart, but lack humbleness. Oh, they can easily pretend that they’re humble, but that’s the problem. Their emotional intelligence makes them good at deceiving others. Everything’s really all about them. The Skillful Politician may be an excellent interview, but once they’re on the team they become dangerous. They’re usually working an angle, and may also be a “backstabber.”

Developing Ideal Traits in Your Team

Once you’ve identified the people on your teams who exemplify these traits, for better or worse, there are a few steps you’ll need to take in order to help encourage the good traits while improving problem areas.

  1. First, apply this process to yourself. If you take the leap of faith, others are more likely to follow you.
  2. Help team members identify and acknowledge their areas for improvement. Let them rank themselves on each value and discuss which values they need to improve on the most. Each group should then hold the others accountable for improvement.
  3. Once you identify the weaknesses, you should be willing to constantly remind employees about their areas for improvement whenever you see something wrong. Saying it once isn’t going to change anything. It takes reinforcement. Employees need to know there’s nowhere to run or hide. This will result in them either a) changing or b) leaving. Both are acceptable outcomes for the team.

Be committed to them. Don’t let them off the hook for their sakes and the sake of the team.

Hiring for Teamwork

As you develop existing team members, consider how to hire for these traits in the first place. Building an effective team from the start may be easier than trying to adjust people’s personalities and habits after the fact.

Stop focusing on technical skills as the be-all, end-all of a job candidate. Mr. Lencioni used the example of a successful NFL quarterback who wasn’t highly drafted because his fingers were shorter than the ideal for the position, but his character was impeccable and translated wonderfully to his professional career. Meanwhile, another quarterback who was drafted higher met all of the technical requirements, but lacked humility and hunger. That quarterback is no longer in the league.

Improve interviewing by avoiding siloed interviews. Candidates will need to work on a team, so your company should conduct team interviews. This also helps reduce misunderstandings, as more than one interviewer is there to provide their view on the candidates and their responses.

Your company should also consider conducting non-traditional interviews. Try getting candidates out of the office. Bring them into the real world to see how they’ll react to actual life situations. Take the time to do “weird” things, in Mr. Lencioni’s example, taking them to a restaurant and tipping the waiter to give the wrong order to see how they’ll react.

Ask questions more than once. Keep probing in slightly different ways. For example, “How do you deal with conflict?” followed by “How would you handle an issue with a friend?”

Scare people with sincerity. Tell them what your company is like, and give them an out if they think it’s not right for them before they’re hired. Consider how many employees leave a company because it wasn’t exactly what they thought it would be when they were researching and interviewing.

Teamwork takes effort, whether you’re developing current employees or hiring new team members. Remember these core values as you work to improve your teams, and you may be able to assemble the perfect group to achieve your company’s aims through hard work, humbleness, and respect for each other.



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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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