Dr. Steve Ingham


Understanding High-Performance: Defining it’s Meaning and our Experience of it

white stage

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

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

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.



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