What makes a good team player?

  1.  According to respected and very successful leadership expert, Patrick Lencioni, author of The Ideal Team Player, members who are humble, hungry (driven for results) and people smart.

A person, to be a good team player needs to be able to:

  • admit mistakes
  • have a sense of urgency or passion that fuels person motivation
  • go beyond what is required
  • know how to act and what to say and what not to say
  • not be arrogant, condescending, dismissive or self-centered –
  • the opposites of these behaviours that is,  humble, encouraging, inclusive and other-centered
  • quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own

I encourage you to re-read that list and self-evaluate honestly.

2. According to Chip Conley, author of a book called Wisdom at Work, a team player fosters psychological safety. He explains at least 10 ways to create psychological safety. Which ones stand out for you? 

  • Create team norms such as everyone participates in group discussions, especially those representing diverse demographics and viewpoints
  • Lead by example – don’t interrupt team mates during conversations
  • Give credit to people for their earlier idea as you build on those ideas
  • Call out intergroup conflicts or people who seem to be upset so that you can resolve in person
  • Build skill of reading body language to see who is engaged and who isn’t (if not have 1:1 convo)
  • Give opportunity for framing issues to anyone with the data – not just the most senior or position leader
  • Cultivate curiosity by asking great questions with the goal of alignment– Question storming (vs brainstorming)
  • as the leader ask ‘If I am about to make a mistake, will you tell me?’
  • make sure that all action items at the end of a meeting are shared by two people rather than one – forces team members to work together
  • sticking to commitments and holding each other accountable

3. According to my own research and writing on the topic, I echo the above and emphasize three foundational dispositions to cultivate in relation to being a good team player. It’s always a question at interviews – are you a good team player? Together these dispositions can be remembered by the acronym RAC:  reflective, appreciative and collaborative


A foundational disposition for team players is to foster a reflective or contemplative approach. Don’t be all talk or all ‘show’ – be a thinker – be thoughtful – take the time to discern. It doesn’t mean you can’t be fun, or funny or friendly. …

In order to reflect, to think deeply, one needs time and stillness. However, the fragmented role of a leader, time constraints, proclivity towards action as well as expectation to be transparent and interactive both on and off-line often means that finding time for self-reflection can be challenging.

Nevertheless, these challenges only serve to amplify the need for a leader to schedule time to think about these and similar questions:

  • How do I process what’s going on?
  • What are my ways of gaining the big picture?
  • What are my practices for restoring a sense of peace and possibility (Wheatley in Goldman Schulyer et al., 2016)? 
  • How am I being received by others? Am I coming across clearly, kindly, effectively? Am I talking too much? Am I listening well?

Such questions speak to a leader’s alignment of personal and professional purpose. When alignment is achieved greater individual and communal wellness results and teamwork is more effective and collaborative.

Without time to think and constant busyness, you’ll likely have less patience, increased distractability, preoccupation, and decreased ability to be fully present and recognize others’ needs.

Researcher Ying Gao (2018) identified the following organizational benefits of such individual inner work: more respect, collegiality, collaboration, openness, willingness to listen and empathize; a safe atmosphere free from fear, suspicion, backstabbing and hostility.

The second disposition is: Appreciative

A second disposition for team players to foster is an appreciative lens that focuses on potential and resilience rather than a deficit approach. The main idea behind an appreciative disposition is to focus on strengths.

At its heart, AI [Appreciative Inquiry] is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. AI is not so much a shift in the methods and models of organizational change, but AI is a fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the wholeness of the human system and to “inquire” into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes. (Stavros, Godwin, & Cooperrider, 2015, p.97)

The third and final disposition for team players that I’m going to speak about today is Collaborative.

This is basically the definition of being a team player. A person who is collaborative is committed to the authentic pursuit of community actualization rather than individual goals alone.

Being a team player means that you realize the organization will do better and people will be happier if people on the team view the overall goals collectively – not as an individual pursuit but rather a collective effort whereby an individual uses influence to work with and through others to achieve organizational goals. 

Fostering a collective approach is both freeing and healthy.  Identifying the work that needs to be done to reach shared goals and then doing that work with others can increase both humility and confidence in the sense of ‘I can’t do this alone but with others I feel more assured and will consider taking a risk I wouldn’t have on my own’

In addition, collaborative work can be enjoyable as well as lead to innovative ideas, less defensiveness and a sense of shared purpose and responsibility. When we collaborate we may experience important aspects of wellness including reassurance, belonging and purpose that comes from contribution.  

 People who are team players foster dispositions that are reflective, appreciative, and collaborative. These people create professional environments that enhance a humble, hungry and people-smart approach while fostering psychological safety, confidence, will and capacity to contribute.