People, Teams, Culture – The Heart of Success 

6 Mar 2024

People, Teams, Culture – The Heart of Success  People, Teams, Culture – The Heart of Success 

Elena Marinova is co-founder of Musala Soft and member of the advisory board of Qinshift. She is dedicated to causes related to education, innovation and high achievement. Elena started creating and managing projects at an early age. In the corporate world she has experience from the inception of Musala Soft to establishing it as a defining entity in the Bulgarian IT industry and as a recognized name among its international clients. Now, after an acquisition deal by the multi-billion dollar KKCG, Musala Soft merges into the software group Qinshift with nearly 7,000 employees. As a board member of a number of organizations, Elena works in a leader-concentrated environment. 

Introduction: “If next to every good person stands at least one more…” – Bogdana Karadocheva 

I deeply believe in the team. The team is a mandatory condition for success. From the corporate sector to non-governmental organizations, the fundamental principles in creating successful teams are the same. Let’s start with an example – in the Bulgarian media space, there are cores around which quality journalism is built. These are several individuals playing a key role in the development of a well-informed and critical thinking society. Maxim Mayer is one of them, and I always consider it a compliment to participate in his projects. Maxim is a leader and a top-class team player. I write this text for his media freely, because I respect Maxim and his causes. This makes me part of his team. In another context, Maxim is part of my team and I will tell this story later on.  


There are people who, no matter what, will work giving their all, responsibly and loyally. There are people who, no matter what, in the best-case scenario, will accomplish nothing and, in the worst case, will be destructive. Most people could be both. The secret to creating a constructive team is to understand the personal and professional profile of the individual, to engage them through their motivators for the organization’s cause, and most challenging of all – to create a fertile environment. 


People: The Spectrum of Leader – Manager – Performer 

There are three roles in an organization: the leader, the manager and the performer. There is no way for a team to exist in the long run without them; each is important and has its typical motivators. 

Following are the profiles of these roles. In the real world, rarely is anyone a pure leader/manager/performer; usually, we are all a combination somewhere on the spectrum of the three, and over time and in different contexts, we can take on different roles. This makes our individual motivators a fluid mix. 

The Leader 

The leader is the one who shows the way and inspires. Ideas constantly flash from them, always more than can be implemented. The leader looks into the future – the next 5-10-100 years, and monthly reports (and reports in general) are a burden for them. The leader is social – they know many people, and everyone knows them. Usually, they get what they want because they are all charm and charisma. They have a big ego but also self-confidence and charisma. The leader is rarely satisfied because there is always a next goal, but they cannot function without enjoying what they are doing. If I had to describe the leader in one word, it is inspiration. 

The leader is motivated by the spotlight, the freedom to fly and the power to engage, they need endorphin and adrenaline, they love the stage and cannot tolerate restrictions. 

The Manager 

The manager rules and administers. Getting the job done is their motto. They are the masters of Excel sheets and well-prepared presentations and reports. They think in terms of KPI, FTE, bottom-line, optimizations, etc. For them, people in business are resources, and the charisma, the pleasure of working, the friendships at the office and emotions in general are useless distractions. The manager is short-term oriented – monthly, quarterly, and annual reports are their ultimate satisfaction. In one word – the manager is order. 

The manager is motivated by the opportunity to create processes, to ensure that the work is done, goals are achieved, and to make a good report that will be approved. 

The Performer 

The performer forms the reality, fills ideas with content, gives them life. Without them, nothing will happen – performers can be people or technologies or a mix, the so-called “augmented workforce” (merging human and technology for the execution of certain tasks). The performer is the one who has the real skills, depth of knowledge, and the ability to bring the work to completion. The performer is substance. 

The performer is motivated by the quality completion of the work, becoming better and acquiring new knowledge and skills, knowing that they are needed. 

The Team: 1+1=? 

Creating a successful team for achieving short-term goals is an art in which each element has its place, while forming a successful team working long-term for a cause is a masterpiece composed of constantly moving elements. 

It is relatively easy to form a team that can achieve short-term goals. Such a team can be successfully created by a leader, a manager, or a group of performers. 

The leader relies on emotions and can make wonders inspiring people to give their best and devoting every bit of themselves to the goal, If the constant high energy level is not balanced in the long term, it leads to exhaustion, and often the leader does not understand why people are “burning out” because the leader’s own energy is inexhaustible. 

The manager relies on the classics – money and clarity, thus providing security, predictability, and relaxed work environment. However, commitment soon disappears, motivation falls, and consequently, the team’s productivity decreases. The manager is not surprised when people leave for more money because they would do the same. 

A group of performers can also create a team in which everyone is equal and can achieve a goal without the complications of hierarchy. However, when the democratic process fails and someone has to make decisions taking significantly greater responsibility than others, the team falls apart. 


What about a successful team that works for a cause and achieves long-term goals (some of which may fail)? The time factor changes the task conceptually. People are different, and over time, our abilities, needs, desires, and priorities change. The context also changes. To manage a team in the long term, the presence of leaders, managers, and performers in a flexible balance and proportion is necessary to complement each other and achieve maximum results. The leader with their inexhaustible energy and ideas need the manager to ground them and bring order, to translate the vision into a strategy and tasks for execution. The manager needs the direction set by the leader, and the entire team needs their inspiration. The performer needs a combination of “guiding light” to see meaning and order, and predictability provided by the manager, to avoid burning out from the constant fire of the leader and to be able to develop. Both the leader and the manager need the performers to achieve goals and make progress; otherwise, everything will be just ideas and spreadsheets. 

The balance and good connection between the roles of leaders, managers, and performers determine the creation of a “fertile” environment and successful teams where 1+1 is much more than 2. 

The Environment: “Being determines consciousness.” – Karl Marx 

No matter how people are attracted, no matter what teams are built, if the environment is not favorable, successes will be, at best, short-lived. 

Culture is the most challenging to build and even more challenging to maintain. Each role contributes to creating the culture, and people need each other, complement each other, balance each other, and build on each other. The most productive culture is created by leaders – it is passion, emotion, and vision, where everything is big – both successes and failures. But if there are no managers, it is filled with continuous impossible missions and high expectations that exhaust the team. Managers can build a “transactional culture” – one where tasks are completed as planned, but there is no “spirit,” and ultimately long-term results are mediocre – there won’t be huge failures, but neither will you create a star of an organization led by a manager. Therefore, managers need leaders to provide vision and inspiration. If you let performers lead in building culture, you will get controversial goals that often will not be achieved because people will take every turn they find interesting. In the end, many of them will enjoy it and even consider themselves productive (because they are productive for themselves), but the overall end result will be negative. 

When a positive culture is created, it begins to seem like the results come naturally. The team is united, well-coordinated, people are happy, surpassing even the highest expectations. 

However, this is not a happy ending but a new beginning. At this point, other risks emerge – for example, egos may start to emerge, and team members may think that success is their personal achievement. Or a “toxic” team member may appear – from outside or within. If not addressed, the good organizational culture built slowly and laboriously begins to crumble quickly and easily. If you wonder whether an organizational change is good or bad – a quick test is the speed at which it happens – if you notice a rapid change in culture, be sure it is negative. The larger the team, the slower the positive change is. Mindset change requires explanations, examples, persuasion. Destruction is easy – only one toxic element, especially if given the power, can destroy everything. Of course, the good is also contagious – an organization with a strong positive core can engage in its values most of the people who enter it and throw the toxins out of its system. 


Final Thoughts: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton 

This is the place for the gratitude. It is arrogant to think that success is an individual discipline. Part of the constructive culture is the realization that behind every personal achievement stands a team, and each of its members should be respected because they contribute to the common goal. One way to express gratitude is to give back good. Let me share one of my big causes – it is supporting the Bulgarian national teams in natural sciences. Here is the story in which Maxim Mayer and his media are part of our team – the Association of the Olympic Teams in Natural Sciences. Maxim joined our cause in December 2023 and promised to publish information about the teams and the perspective of the competitors during 2024. You can see the fulfilled promise in this issue of BGLOBAL with the opinions of two of the Bulgaria’s medalists – Lora, a physicist and astrophysicist, and Victor, a chemist and biologist. Here is how they answer the question “Who are the people I want to work with” 

Lora, 11th grade, Sofia Math School, silver medalist at the International Olympiads in Astronomy and Physics: 

It is invaluable for a person to love what they do in order for their work to be meaningful for both the society and themselves. The environment and social context play a crucial role for the mental well-being and productivity. The manager’s task is to motivate their team, but they also bear responsibility for the overall work. They should be aware that the work is socially significant and meaningful, and turn its optimal execution in a mission. However, they should not lose sight of themselves, understanding human needs, being fair in evaluating work, and rewards. Colleagues become a “work family,” and by sharing increase productivity. Of course, this happens when they have the necessary knowledge and experience and, most importantly, the desire to develop. When they are inspired and give their best for both the work and the other team members, understanding their limits and the essence of sharing responsibilities. 

Victor, 12th grade, Sofia Math School, gold medalist at the International Olympiad in Chemistry and silver at the International Olympiad in Biology:  

Through Olympiads and competitions, I have had the opportunity to meet many different people with various characters and perspectives. From my interactions with them, I have found that I maintain the best relationships with those whose main driving force is self-satisfaction, rather than an external motivator like rewards or others’ expectations. In the future, I would like to work with people who have genuine interest and passion in the field they have chosen. In my opinion, without proper motivation, we are prone to working poorly, inefficiently, and overall remaining unsatisfied with our daily lives. On the other hand, if we wake up every day eager to tackle the next challenge, experiencing true pleasure from our pursuits, we live a more meaningful and happier life.