3 skills that drive teamwork

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During his 2017 SHRM keynote, Patrick Lencioni declared that one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today is getting smart people to work together and solve problems.

Teamwork is a crucial skill that, according to Lencioni, will give HR leaders “permission to become one of the most important executives in your company.” His self-proclaimed “simple” message was centered on three characteristics that companies must start to look for and teach their employees in order to maximize teamwork.

  1. Humble: Quoting C.S. Lewis, “being humble isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.” While humility is the opposite of arrogance, you shouldn’t confuse humility with someone who has no confidence in themselves and their skills.
  2. Hungry: Being hungry does not mean you are workaholic, but rather means that you are always striving to learn more and improve. Hungry employees are the ones who volunteer to help out and are always trying to improve, but not necessarily the ones who stay all night.
  3. Smart: Being smart has less to do with intellectual smarts and more to do with emotional and human-interaction smart. Smart employees have common sense around others and know how what they do and what they say impacts those around them.

After describing the three characteristics, Lencioni described the pit-falls associated with employees who possess only one of the three skills:

  • Only Humble: Employees who are only humble are “the pawns” and, while they are good neighbors, they don’t make good employees because they are unable to push an agenda forward and be successful.
  • Only Hungry: Employees that are only hungry are “the bulldozers” who get things done, but do so by trouncing on other employees. Finally,
  • Only Smart: Employees that are only smart are “the charmers” and, while they are fun to be around, they never actually get anything done.

Next Lencioni described the pit-falls associated with employees who possess two of the three skills:

  • Both Humble and Hungry: Employees who are both humble and hungry become “the accidental mess makers” who mean well, but unintentionally offend everyone around them. These employees are like new puppies – you love them because of their energy and humility, but really hate the mess they constantly leave on the floor.
  • Both Humble and Smart: Employees who are both humble and smart are “loveable slackers” and even though they are very passionate people, they just aren’t passionate about actually doing their work. Everyone really likes “loveable slackers,” but they never put in their fair share of work and are costly to keep around.
  • Both Hungry and Smart: Employees who are both hungry and smart become “skillful politicians” and represent the most dangerous combination. They are dangerous because they are able to pretend to have humility when necessary and by the time you figure it out, they have already left a trail of employees behind them.


These pitfalls highlight the fact that the ideal team player truly must possess each of the three skills. In order to successfully drive team work in any organization, Lencioni advised that organizations must develop each of these three skills in current employees and start hiring new employees who already have all three skills. In order to be successful at this practice, Lencioni concluded his 2017 SHRM keynote with several tips on how to develop current team members and hire specifically for these skills.

Tips for developing current team members into ideal team players:

  • Go first. As a leader you need to make sure that you yourself have these three skills and you need to apply these principles to yourself.
  • Constantly help team members identify and acknowledge their area for improvement. This is the trickiest part because leaders need to consistently help employees identify the skill they are lacking and remind them to keep working on it. It is not something you can mention once and forget about. According to Lencioni, “Employees need to know there is nowhere to run and hide” until they improve or leave.

Tips for hiring ideal team players

  • Stop focusing on technical skills and measurable. Look at professional sports teams as an example. They make all their decisions on measurable results and very rarely does the number 1 pick in the draft become the best player.
  • Start conducting non-traditional interviews like taking candidates on a flight with you or taking them to a restaurant. Put candidates in real situations where you get to know who they really are.
  • Ask questions more than once in an interview. For example, ask them if they are humble, but then ask them if their significant other would say they hold grudges. Get the candidate to answer from multiple perspectives for any red flags.
  • Scare candidates with sincerity. Organizations need to be better about giving candidates an out rather than sugar-coating what they are really walking into.

In the end, Lencioni’s key message to SHRM was that most organizations already have the tangible skills needed to solve whatever problem the organization may be facing; however, organizations are failing to get the right people to work together and actually solve those problems. By simply developing three skills in every employee, organizations will be able to create ideal team players and actually begin to solve whatever challenges they are facing. HR leaders cannot fail to recognize that they are uniquely placed within the organization to change the lives of people like no one else.

By jordan rogers
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