top of page

A Leader's Guide To High-Performance Teams

Written by: Alena Ipanova, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Alena Ipanova

As a leadership and team development trainer I often work with technical teams, primarily focusing on tech processes, which are more tangible and urgent aspects of their daily work.

people sitting while holding pens during brainstorming

In most cases, such teams turn to me when their productivity level drops, friction between team members arises, and motivation and engagement level decreases. The visual problem is that the same work structure and processes stop generating results. And this becomes a warning sign that it's time to focus on people, not just on tech processes.

While I'm advocating for proactive work in developing a strong and resilient team culture, in practice, leaders and teams often turn to me when they face challenges in Communication, Psychological Safety, and Leadership.

Whether your team is at a critical stage, or on the top of things, I suggest you focus on the following areas to gradually develop and nurture productivity and happiness of your team members.

Psychological safety

Psychological Safety is about creating an environment where team members feel safe, supported, and empowered to express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fearing judgment. In the book "The Fearless Organisation: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth," Amy C. Edmondson defines Psychological Safety as a foundation for building high-performing teams and organisations that thrive on collaboration, creativity, and continuous improvement.

Project Aristotel — a two years research conducted by Google across 180 teams identified Psychological Safety as one of the top factors influencing team dynamics and performance.

As a leader you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I a threat or contributor to Psychological Safety in my team?

  • When did any of my team members last share their critical points? How did the team take it?

  • How can I empower my team members to speak up about concerns or ideas, even when they go against "our normal"?

As Csaba Toth, a best-selling author and founder of ICQ Global, wisely put it, Psychological Safety is not about building; it's instead about removing — removing the obstacles to a safe environment for people to freely and respectfully express their thoughts and take risks without the fear of punishment. Which blocks can you remove today to contribute to psychologically safe work environment?

Motivational drive

Motivation is directly correlated with engagement, joy, and as a result — higher productivity.

While extrinsic motivation can be effective in specific contexts, intrinsic motivation often leads to more profound, sustainable, and positive outcomes. It drives personal development, creativity, collaboration, resilience, and a connection to purpose, making it an essential aspect of individual and organisational success.

According to Daniel Pink, the author of "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," organisations and leaders should foster intrinsic motivation by creating environments that support autonomy, align with personal values and purpose, and provide opportunities for growth and fulfilment.

As a leader you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • How would your team members answer, "What keeps you at your job?"

  • When did you last talk with your team members about what motivates them?

  • How do you help your team members realize their goals and aspirations through their daily tasks?

Cognitive diversity

Cognitive diversity relates to our ability to see a situation from different perspectives. Csaba Toth describes it as the only layer of diversity that has proven benefits in terms of performance. He further explains that as individuals, team members can be very smart but collectively blind if they are too similar on a cognitive level. In other words, demographic and functional diversity may provide variations in appearance, culture, or expertise, but they may not always lead to diverse thought processes or innovative problem-solving.

Cognitive diversity goes deeper, tapping into individual team members' unique mental frameworks and creative processes. It can lead to more robust discussions, innovative solutions, and contribute to a more adaptive and resilient team.

It's important to remember that diversity in any form is just potential!

It requires effort and well thought-through strategy to empower individuals to express their unique perspectives and values. A diverse team doesn't automatically lead to increased creativity or better performance. Instead, as leaders, we should create an environment of inclusion where all members feel valued, respected, and encouraged to contribute. It involves open communication, a willingness to challenge biases and stereotypes, and a commitment to continuous learning and development.

Diversity should not be about ticking boxes or meeting quotas! It should be about embracing the rich complexity of individual experience to drive meaningful change and achieve shared goals.

As a leader you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do I ensure an inclusive environment where all team members feel respected, valued, and encouraged to express their ideas and opinions? How do I and other team members handle differences in viewpoints?

  • What are the benefits of cognitive diversity for my team and our work?

  • What continuous learning and development opportunities am I providing to foster cognitive diversity? How am I empowering team members to take risks, learn from mistakes, and grow in their competences?

From my experience working with teams, I see Psychological Safety, Motivational Drive, and Cognitive Diversity as the top three aspects to measure to be able to evaluate a team's potential for creativity, innovation, and high performance, as well as identify the root cause of problems that might hinder teams from tapping into collective intelligence and reaching their full potential.

If growth is the ultimate purpose for your team and organisation, then nurturing Cognitive Diversity and Motivation in a Psychologically Safe environment should be your priority.

To examine and improve the state of these elements in your team and organisation, you should first be able to measure it!

If you're a leader looking to support your team's journey toward growth, please get in touch with me. Together, we can explore tailored strategies to unlock your team's full potential, aligning individual strengths with collective goals!

Visit my website and follow me on LinkedIn for more actionable tips on how to develop your ICQ.

Alena Ipanova Brainz Magazine

Alena Ipanova, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alena is an inclusive leadership enthusiast, passionate about people and cultures. Her mission is to help individuals and organisations reach their full potential by developing the ability to better relate to and work together with people who think and behave differently. With the background in psychology, education, intercultural leadership and 15+ years experience in international training programs in Europe and Asia, Alena supports individuals, teams and organisations in their growth and development. Working across different sectors and industries, Alena combines best practices and research to address the needs of her clients and help them generate impactful solutions



  • linkedin-brainz
  • facebook-brainz
  • instagram-04


bottom of page