Dr. Steve Ingham


Understanding High-Performance: Defining It’s Meaning and Our Experience Of It

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Understanding the term ‘High-Performance’, what is it and why we’ve all just experienced it…

In the realm of human achievement, the concept of high performance occupies a pivotal role, intersecting across disciplines from athletics to academics, and extending into the nuances of daily endeavors. But the rigorous inquiry into understanding high performance reveals a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that transcends simple measures of success. Lets critically explore its definitions, parameters, and the diverse contexts in which it manifests.

Engage with us as we navigate through the noise and break down what high performance means.

Understanding High Performance: A common term for an uncommon thing

It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, much to my frustration, but hey if someone wants to brand some ordinary screws ‘high-performance screws‘ who am I to stop them, let alone lose sleep over it.

Having said that, I do think there is a need to be sparing in our use of the term ‘high-performance’. The studies that consider 5000 (!) elite junior athletes are, in title at least, misleading their readership. The term elite, for example, is subjective, so needs defining.

So what is High-Performance?

Let’s start with the obvious part – what is ‘performance’?


My working definition of ‘performance’ is;

“the action or process of performing a task or function”


So now, what is the ‘high’ bit? Here is my definition of ‘high-performance’;

“the action or process of performing a task or function to an exceptional level or under exceptional demand or circumstances

The ‘exceptional level’ encompasses the world record long jump, the Olympic vest, the record goal scorer, but equally the polymath, concerto violinist, the 5 octave soprano, the speed cubers…etc

It is worth recognising the second half of the definition too. An ‘exceptional demand or circumstance’ typically encompasses the astronaut returning from the ISS, the mountaineer scaling Everest, special forces undertaking a covert pressured mission with exacting skill…etc

Pandemic experience on High Performance

When you consider this second part of the definition, then our recent experiences can be put into some context too. We’ve all experienced something exceptional, we’ve all been put under exceptional demand or circumstance. The global pandemic has demanded that we perform our everyday given tasks under difficult and trying circumstances. Very obviously, our healthcare professionals have grafted through something quite horrendous. Perhaps not to the same level but we all have had to respond and we’re still living through the consequences.

Realising that we can all respond to exceptional demand and circumstances is part of our understanding of making ‘high-performance’ less about the preserve of the talented, and more about our inner capacity to tolerate, cope, thrive and weather a storm. We are inherently more resilient than we think and I sense that recognising what we’ve been through, what your colleagues have been through, what the world has been through is a phase of performing at a high level and that is reassuring to understand!

Phases of performance

Note the use of the word phase. While we’ve been through a period of demand and we’ve recognised that doing our normal work under this demand required high-performance – we need to recognise the need for renewal and recovery. The febrile economy, divisive politics and rapid pace of change are creating a culture of uncertainty – so now is a time, ever more so that we need each other to collaborate with. The need for high-performing teams is ever more prescient.

High-performing teams

So to finish off what is a high-performing team?

“the action or process of collaborating to perform a task or function to an exceptional level or under exceptional demand or circumstances

But here’s the thing, our major accomplishments as a species have not been achieved through solitary efforts, they’ve been achieved in teams! That is where true high-performance then lies!

The time for us to put more focus on our team, team skills and team effectiveness is now.

Understanding High Performance in Context

What exactly defines high performance in an individual?

High performance in an individual is characterised by their ability to carry out tasks or functions to an exceptional level, often exceeding ordinary standards of excellence. This can manifest across various domains, such as sports, music, academics, and more, where the individual achieves remarkable accomplishments or operates under extreme demand or circumstances with superior skill and resilience.

How does high performance relate to everyday life and experiences?

High performance is not solely the domain of the elite or those in highly specialised fields. The concept also applies to everyday life, especially in times of unprecedented challenges, such as the recent global pandemic. Individuals and communities have shown high performance by adapting to new norms, overcoming difficulties, and maintaining essential services and personal responsibilities under trying conditions.

Can high performance be learned or developed?

Yes, high performance is a trait that can be nurtured and developed through consistent practice, training, and the right mindset. It involves setting high standards, pursuing excellence, and continually learning and adapting. Developing a high-performance mindset also requires resilience, perseverance, and the ability to learn from failures and setbacks.

How can high-performing teams enhance their effectiveness?

High-performing teams enhance their effectiveness by fostering a culture of collaboration, communication, and mutual respect. Such teams are characterized by their collective ability to perform tasks or functions exceptionally well, especially under demanding circumstances. Key to enhancing team effectiveness is the alignment of goals, clear roles and responsibilities, trust among team members, and the continuous development of team skills and dynamics.

Are there specific traits or characteristics common in high-performing individuals and teams?

Common traits among high-performing individuals and teams include a strong work ethic, resilience, adaptability, a continuous learning mindset, and the ability to thrive under pressure. In teams, effective communication, trust, and shared vision are additionally crucial. Both high-performing individuals and teams exhibit a commitment to excellence and a persistent pursuit of goals despite obstacles.



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