3 Essential Characteristics of the Ideal Team Player

Updated: May 30, 2021

It’s the era of teamwork now, and it’s going to be the era of teamwork for many more years to come. If you want success, you need to be an excellent part of the team. But given that fact, we continue to train people for technical skills, and the right way to play as a team is left unmentioned.

In this article, we are going to describe three essential characteristics that make a good team player. Lovable slacker, accidental mess maker, skillful politician, what type of team player are you?

First, let’s talk about "Humility", or being humble in other words. Out of the three virtues, humility is by far the most important. It’s about giving others a spot ahead of yourself, as opposed to being self-centered. Humble people are quick to point out what others have done and slow to seek attention to their own contribution. They are driven by the greater good of the team, share credit, and define success collectively.

Don’t mistake being humble for lacking confidence. To discount your own talent is, essentially, a violation of humility, just like it is to be arrogant. C. S. Lewis, in this case, sums it up perfectly by quoting: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”.

Another virtue is to be "Hungry". Hungry here refers to a strong work ethic. They are diligent, self-motivated, eager to get work done, and never require any push by managers. Hungry people go above and beyond what they are told to do, they are always looking for more - more tasks to do, more knowledge to learn, and more responsibility to take on. Simply put, they never do the bare minimum.

People with this trait are generally more prone to success in team and in life. However, this hungry trait is the hardest to develop in someone later in their life.

The final characteristic is what’s called being "Smart". It refers to emotional intelligence, as in interactions with people, and not about “intellectual smart”. Having common sense is exactly what describes this type of person. They are good at defining what is happening, and excel at understanding and dealing with others. Smart people know how to use their words effectively to engage others and to bring out others’ best selves.

Many people only possess one of these characteristics, making themselves less than an ideal team player. Particularly, if you only have one of the three, there are names for each type:

  • Only Humble = The Pawn (Kind-hearted people who just don’t feel the urgent need to get things done)

  • Only Hungry = The Bulldozer (Determined to get things done, but for the interest of themselves only, no understanding of others)

  • Only Smart = The Charmer (Can be likeable due to their social skills, but have little interest in the long term performance of the team)

Here comes another question: What about when you possess two of the three virtues?

  • Humble and Smart = Loveable Slacker

They are lovable, undoubtedly. The thing is, they tend to do “just enough”, meaning to do only as they are required without seeking for more responsibilities to take on. Their limited passion for their work is what drives the team down. Therefore, they need to be constantly reminded with significant motivation.

  • Humble and Hungry = Accidental Mess Maker

They have a strong work ethic, strong desire to serve the team, thus they have very good intentions. However, their lack of interpersonal skills sometimes leave them in problems with colleagues. Gradually, those colleagues might get tired of cleaning the mess that “Humble and Hungry” people accidentally create.

  • Hungry and Smart = Skillful Politician

They are incredibly ambitious and are willing to work extremely hard, as long as they deem the work beneficial to themselves. With their knowledge and intelligence, they are able to create a very good performance in the team, and at the same time portray themselves as being humble, which is very dangerous. While their performance can be high, they often leave people wounded.

The Ideal Team Player = Humble, Hungry, and Smart

Ideal team members possess an adequate amount of humility, hunger and interpersonal smarts. They work with passion, give little credit for themselves, and appreciate other team members.

So what to do with all this information?

Ultimately, this framework is used to develop people. Start by identifying the three characteristics in you and in other members of the team, then address any lack thereof, and show them what they must improve in order to become an ideal team player.

By developing these virtues, we are changing ourselves for better and improving the organization as well.


Here are some moments of our workshop with INSEE on Leadership and Teamwork that we would like to show you:


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