5 Steps to High Performance

Building a red hot, high performance team is amongst the top goals of most business leaders.  Covey's definition of culture as a 'feeling' I like, as this points largely to culture being shifting sands that we can mould and adapt, not fixed and inflexible.  Importantly, we have an ability to change culture through attitude rather than skill alone.  Over the years, working with some of the world's top organisations, I have witnessed many top performers and their teams, here are some of the features:

'Change culture through attitude rather than skill'


There is an 'I' in team.  Conditioning comes from training hard to build what you need to rely on for the main event.  Being part of a cycling pack may mean that you can reduce your power output, drag and yet increase your efficiency, but are these desirable outcomes during your conditioning period?  The DNA of high performance lies in the lonely, repetitive, hard work and dark nights that goes into training.  This conditioning ensures that high performers have experienced a full spectrum of emotions, decisions and perhaps physical challenges before they hit the race or the challenge.  John Young, one of NASA's most experienced astronaut's was hurled into space facing incredible forces - famously, during one launch his pulse rate remained unchanged.  Conditioning ensures a cool head and physical preparedness for otherwise overwhelming situations.  The kind of preparation that high performers undertake means that when working with others, they are prepared, contribute, are useful and help the team to drive a high performance outcome.  This also goes for the mental work:  top performers do the research, are well read and seek to become experts in their field.    

'The DNA of high performance lies in the lonely, repetitive, hard work and dark nights that goes into training


If you are a member of a team, you have a responsibility to that team.  There is no room for passengers or the apathetic.  The best teams are free of blame and instead focus on accountability and more importantly responsibility to the task and the big goals.  High performance is not an easy path, but if you can inspire each other to the 'feeling' of high performance, this will be intoxicating and ultimately lead to less resistance, less blame and more efficiency.  An airline pilot has to rely on trust, that the engineers have completed their work effectively - you cannot be across everything in a high performing team.  Remember that a culture is flexible, you can change it by creating that 'feeling', setting a direction and inspiring others to follow.  Most people genuinely want to do great work - be a leader and help to remove obstacles that stand in their way.  

'There is no room for passengers or the apathetic'


One of my favourite commentators, Richard Rumelt points to leverage and advantage as key strategic opportunities.  The best teams have an acute under understanding of who is in their team, what their strengths are and equally what aspects may be missing to achieve its mission.  Prior analysis, critical thinking are important attributes as are self-awareness, self-reflection and trust.  High performers acknowledge their power and have self-awareness about their deficits.  


It is impossible for one person to perform 100% every day, all year.  Cycle activity through the team so that you take advantage of key team members attributes at different times.  Encourage down-time, rest and a culture of work hard/ rest hard to ensure that you can manage sustainable high performance.  Some leaders opt for flexible working.  The only downside to this comes when you have a combination of a lack of trust, clarity, accountability or responsibility.  It is a leaders responsibility to create a landscape that sets people up for success, you can't rely on hope.  'Fail to plan, plan to fail'.  

'It is a leaders responsibility to create a landscape that sets people up for success.'


Sleep, eat well and exercise.  This is a significantly under-represented aspect of high performance - it is a physiological fact that your brain will perform much better if you are physically healthy.  Our body's chemistry has a huge impact on our ability to perform optimally.  Aim for at least 10,000 steps a day to keep the blood circulating around your body and oxygen to the grey matter.  A great commentator once said "your body is not just a vehicle to carry around your brain". 

'Our body's chemistry has a huge impact on our ability to perform optimally.'


  • Train hard, so that when it matters you can 'show up' and perform optimally for your team

  • Take responsibility for yourself, trust others and work hard to replace blame with pre-planning and responsibility. 

  • Understand yourself and your team and play to your strengths

  • Work hard and rest hard

  • Look after your body, it is your ticket to the future. 

Author: Mark McOnie, Founder of Branch Out.

Mark McOnie