5 Steps to Build Peak Performance – Step 4. Grapple and Grow

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In previous blogs, I have summarized the first three steps of the Cycle of Excellence referenced in the book Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011).

Dr. Hallowell, the author, a psychiatrist and behavior expert, draws on brain science, performance research, and his own experience to present the Cycle of Excellence process for getting the best from your people and providing optimal working conditions for peak performance.

To recap, the following are the 5 Steps to Build Peak Performance.

  1. Select: Put the right people in the right job, and give them responsibilities that “light up” their brains.   
  2. Connect: Strengthen interpersonal bonds among team members.
  3. Play: Help people unleash their imaginations at work.
  4. Grapple and Grow: When the pressure’s on, enable employees to achieve mastery of their work.
  5. Shine: Use the right rewards to promote loyalty and stoke your people’s desire to excel.

Today’s blog continues with the fourth step.

Step 4: Grapple and Grow

growFollowing up on Step 3. Play, people will eagerly stretch beyond their usual limits when there is a supportive environment to engage imaginatively with tasks they like and at which they excel.

If tasks are too easy or too routine, people fall into boredom and apathy. If there is no encouragement, opportunity, or a safe environment for creative and critical thinking, people will follow rules and regulations with blind compliance or perhaps worse, they become lone rangers or saboteurs wreaking havoc for everyone.  With the latter, no one makes progress, learns anything new, or contributes with peak performance.

Your job, as a leader or manager, is to be a catalyst.  When people get stuck, ask powerful questions to engage their creative and critical-thinking. Offer a few suggestions and then let them work out solutions.

The Right Environment for Grapple-and-Grow

Provide a physical environment that inspires and induces a different way of thinking and a different approach to finding solutions.  One of my clients set up different “creative-thinking” zones throughout the workplace where employees can switch their brains from routine operational work to more strategic and creative work.  The zones are designed for grapple-and-grow experiences that are fun.  Two zones incorporate physical play, a basketball hoop and a foosball table.  Other zones offer solitary or team challenges along with mental and physical challenges.


Another client has yearned for a place where she could focus solely on her strategic-thinking away from the distractions of routine deskwork and other interruptions. Getting past the initial inertia of needing to make the space perfect-before-use was a “grapple and grow” exercise in itself providing valuable insights in how she approaches challenges.  She now sees the space as sacred, evolving, and a place to develop mastery.

The Grapple-and-Grow concept is as important, if not more important, in work that is routine and structured such as administrative, accounting, and front-line service.  Encouraging a different way of thinking and a different approach to finding solutions adds energy to work that can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.  It’s in the process of finding a different way that we often find the better way.  Finding the better way develops mastery.

Pressure Can Make or Break

Adding pressure to complete tasks quickly is counter to grapple-and-grow and leads to shortcuts and stress that usurp creative and critical-thinking. On the other hand, the right amount of pressure and the right amount of creativity enables employees to grapple, grow, and achieve mastery over their work.


What do you think about this?

  • Are there job functions that need review to avoid boredom and apathy?
  • Are you presenting meaningful challenges and allowing people to grapple and grow?
  • Are you applying the right amount of pressure to create some sparkling gems in your organization?


Books and Audiobooks

Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011)

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