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Book Review: The Ideal Team Player

Aug 01, 2017

We’re big on teamwork here at Website Muscle. (“Teamwork makes the dream work,” after all.)

But as easy as it is to just say “Teamwork!” and hope for the best, we wanted something a little more substantial to build our culture on. Which is why we opted to read Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player — how else? — as a team.

Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, wrote The Ideal Team Player as a companion piece to his earlier work to illustrate what teamwork looks like in a real-world setting. This “business fable” follows fictional characters as they discover, together, what their team needs to succeed at a high level.

The Fable

itp-book.jpgThe hero of the Ideal Team Player story is Jeff, a Silicon Valley veteran looking for a more stable work environment for himself and his family.

Jeff agrees to join his uncle’s construction business with the intent of taking it over after learning the ropes, but those plans are scuttled when Jeff’s uncle finds out he needs surgery for a heart condition. Jeff has to take over the company immediately.

To top it all off, Jeff and his team need to bring on a lot of new employees to complete a pair of large projects — and they’re worried. The company has never had a clearly defined template for their ideal new hires, and if they don’t bring in the right people… well, they’re screwed.

The rest of the book follows Jeff as he tries to put his finger on the right set of values to lead the company forward. He narrows it down to three “virtues” — Hungry, Humble and Smart. Implementing these virtues as the core of the company’s culture keeps the business on track, makes the hiring process much easier, and ultimately leads to a happy ending for Jeff and his team.

The Three Virtues

Hungry team players aren’t the weirdos who steal your sandwich from the break room because they’re feeling peckish. In this context, hungry simply means someone who wants more — more responsibility, more knowledge, more challenges, more money (usually). These are the people who are always trying to get better, and want others to get better with them.

Humble team members are easier to define by what they don’t do — they don’t try and build themselves up at the expense of others, and they don't tear people down out of their own insecurities. Humble people own their good work, and their mistakes, with the same reliable perspective.

Smart team players don’t have to go out and win a chess match against a supercomputer to prove themselves. In this context, smart means that you have the “people smarts” to read a room, make good judgments, and understand the effects that your words and actions have on others. Without people smarts, team communication can fall apart and create larger dysfunction down the road.

Lencioni’s final point for the Three Virtues is the most important — all three are required for an employee to be an Ideal Team Player. Someone who lacks one or more of the virtues is much more likely to cause friction and hamper the rest of the team.


In addition to hiring and establishing a strong company culture, the ITP model is a solid framework for developing and assessing current employees.

If you’re trying to apply the Three Virtues to an existing company (as Jeff does in the book), it’s important to be transparent with the culture shift you’re attempting, so employees can choose to buy in. Or as Jeff says himself, “The most unhappy people in a company are the ones who don't fit the culture and are allowed to stay.”

We’ve taken a lot of what this book says to heart at Website Muscle. Our team is already full of people who are Hungry, Humble, and Smart — and we’re always on the lookout for more.

Topics: Book Review

Kyle Cavaness

Written by Kyle Cavaness

Kyle is approachable, friendly, and professional – and the dude can write, which doesn’t hurt. Kyle helps our online marketing clients by writing unique, keyword-rich blog posts and landing pages. During non-working hours, he writes stories for OC Weekly and songs for his band, The Vespertines.

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