Leadership & Culture, Performance | Jul 26, 2021

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For the first time in nearly 18 months, Leaders Performance Institute members were able to meet in person for a day of learning, on Thursday 22nd July, at the home of England Football, St. George’s Park to explore the ever-fascinating topic of high performance environments.

This style of event was the first of its kind, designed to be an immersive learning experience for those in attendance which included: England Rugby, The Football Association, Chelsea FC, Manchester United, Team Ineos Cycling, England Cricket, Wales Rugby and more. The day comprised of stimulus through evidence-based research, exposure to a live environment to provide opportunity for observation, skills-based learning on how we practically generate impact in our environment, an industry case study from a leading Head Coach and finally application and action upon return to our respective organisations.

Those in attendance have been issued a detailed ‘Playbook’ outlining learnings and observations based on the interactions and activities that took place. For those of you who were unable to join us, we have highlighted a number of key takeaways and themes that resonated with fellow members from our conversations around high performance environments.

Session 1: High Performance Environments: What the Research is Telling Us

Speaker: Dr. David Fletcher, Director of Performance Psychology & Senior Lecturer in Performance ​Psychology & Management, Loughborough University

Dr. David Fletcher kicked off by stimulating our thinking on what contemporary research is telling us around high performance environments and provided an evidence-based model for the group to deliberate and benchmark against. Below are considerations for any high performance environment:

  • High performance environments can be defined as ‘the conditions in which performers operate’. What do they consist of? This model requires leadership to be at the centre – the leader needs to provide a clear vision, challenge and support. Alongside leadership, Dr. Fletcher shared three other key components crucial for a high performance environment:
  • Performance Enablers: The environmental support required by people to operate effectively in any performance environment
  • People: The individuals operating in the performance environment
  • Culture: The perception that individuals have of their organisation as a whole.
  • Key considerations for your environment:
  • Important to consider the performance environment holistically, rather than considering specific variables in isolation.
  • Provides researchers, practitioners, and leaders with a view of the key areas to focus on to create and sustain high performance in organisations.
  • A co-ordinated approach to developing high performance environments is required.

Session 2: High Performance Environments: Observing a Live Environment

Live Training Session: Wolverhampton Wanderers Under 23s

After exploring what the research is telling us and discussing with others what resonated from the first session, we observed a live environment in practice by watching Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Under 23s training session. The group were asked to observe what they noticed about the environment. Below are some of the areas of opportunity they identified to positively influence any environment:

  • Influencing a high performance environment in practice:
  • The importance of learning and debriefing opportunities post-task.
  • Consider making your environment more player / athlete-led and ask for their opinions and thoughts before the intervention of the coach.
  • How are you thinking about coach-to-coach feedback? Is there the presence of a coach developer in the environment to support the coaches?
  • Ensure you are checking for understanding on a consistent basis with the athletes.
  • Coaching sessions can often be very tidy and well structured, it’s important to integrate some chaos into the session. Competitive scenarios are not perfectly designed and structured.

Session 3: High Performance Environments: Turning Teamwork into a Competitive Advantage

Speaker: John Bull, Director & Lead for High Performance Research, Management Futures

In our third session, we focused our attention on the skills and application of learning towards positively influencing a high performance environment. In working towards making collaboration a competitive advantage, what are some of the inhibiting factors of this? What should we be looking out for or trying to avoid?

  • Avoid:
  • Unequal contribution – who speaks is determined by personality and / or status.
  • Tribal – we are naturally less open with people we see as part of a different group.
  • Lack of psychological safety leading people to withhold their thoughts.
  • Fixed positions and defensiveness.
  • Lack of strategic focus – we don’t use time effectively in meetings.

So these are the six factors that can inhibit quality collaboration and quality of team performance. With these in mind, what are high performing teams working on that provides them with the best opportunity for quality collaboration:

  • Promote:
  • Equal contribution.
  • Diversity of ideas and perspectives – if you want a good, creative discussion, get people to write down their thoughts first.
  • See everyone as part of the same tribe, focus on shared interests.
  • Encouraging people to speak up, and challenge with skilled candour.
  • Staying open and curious about different views to our own. Welcoming challenge.
  • Focus on a few important conversations. Use a diamond structure.

Session 4: High Performance Environments: Real Life Examples from England Rugby

Speaker: Eddie Jones, Head Coach, England Rugby

To wrap up the day, we had the opportunity to explore another high performing environment in more detail, supported by the research and questioning that had emerged throughout the day, with England Rugby Head Coach Eddie Jones. We asked Eddie how from a practical perspective he approaches, considers and influences his environment.

  • Whenever you feel like you’re almost there with your environment, break it, and then you’ll have another period of growth. As soon as your team stops growing, your opposition catches up and overtakes. The skill is finding what area to break that’s going to make the most difference.
  • You’ve got to start off with a vision of where you want to go. Get the structure in place to support the vision, then get the right people and establish the right behaviours. Have staff that compliment you instead of being like you.
  • ‘Be a master of exclusion not inclusion’.
  • Consistently review what you do.
  • ‘Spend 10% at the front and 90% walking the floor’.

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