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Top 3 Tips For Hiring + Mentoring An Ideal Team Player

We recently reviewed the three must-haves of any team player, following the essential virtues – Humble, Hungry and Smart – laid out in Patrick Lencioni’s new book, The Ideal Team Player. This post is all about putting those virtues into action – in interviews, staff assessments and team development.

Most of our clients already know they want a team player:

  • They ask for leaders – people capable of motivating, inspiring and managing others.
  • They talk about culture – the values, traditions and even emotions that fuel their work.
  • They bring up all the times they definitely did NOT hire a team player (often, painful).

But even though they know they’re looking for that “ideal” person, they aren’t exactly sure how and where to identify them. And even with the three virtues memorized, it’s difficult – in the day-to-day realities of HR processes, meetings and deliverables  – to dial-into what truly makes someone “hungry, humble and smart.”

“The cost of hiring a non-team player is lost productivity, downward pressure on the team’s results-and the misery of working with the person.” – Patrick Lencioni

That’s where expert recruiters come in. Here are some of the techniques we use to smoke out the pretenders in interviews. We think these same tactics also apply to performance reviews, one-on-one’s and conflict resolution – and personal development, too.

Stay Nimble

Recruiters are skilled at the gentle-judo often required to “get real” in interviews. Candidates with large egos (#yuge, even) can present as powerful, capable and extremely confident. When you get the feeling #AlternativeFacts are being presented, a slight adjustment or change of tack in the conversation can help de-stabilize the “only hungry” and reveal their troubling lack of humility.

  • Stop asking hypothetical questions (i.e. how would you deal with/address….) and get down to specifics.

  • Compliment or call-out behaviours that either align with the virtues or go against them (Lencioni says to do this publicly for the sake of others as well)

Look back, way back.

Work ethic – or Hunger – is often developed early in life. Lencioni says that asking candidates to look back can help you identify their capacity for “difficulty, sacrifice, and hardship.”  It can also give great insight into what makes someone tick.

  • If you’re not comfortable delving into the teenage years, try asking about their most challenging group tasks, volunteer experience or athletic-endeavours in university/college.

  • This can be done formally in an interview or more causally at the office happy-hour – take time to learn about your teammates on a personal-level.

Honour your sixth sense

Too many “I’s” and “me’s” in conversation says exactly what you think it says – this person probably doesn’t play well with others. Even leaders who live and breathe the three virtues can self-excuse themselves into hiring skills over people. Lencioni says, “don’t ignore hunches.”

  • A smart person has good intuition about people, i.e. they likely won’t give a twenty-minute monologue during an interview.
  • If you’re looking to evaluate a current team player for humility or smarts, observe them, intentionally, in meetings. Do they listen? Do they get aggressive? Do they complement? Do they ever apologize?

Leconini also offers a number of FREE online resources and guides to help you hone in on the humble, hungry and smart candidates you’re looking for:

  • Interviewing



Smart, Savvy + Associates are experts in helping marketing and communications leaders find people and develop teams that thrive and deliver inspiring results. As a people performance company, we specialize in finding marketing and communications talent in the Pacific North West. We also offer training programs for leaders and teams as well as options to become a certified coach or get coached.

Jaylene Crick

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