Exceptional results require a high-performance team but how do you build one?

In what can be termed a mini-MBA session, Seni Sulyman and Chichi Offodile in an edition of TechCabal Live shared expert advice on how to build high-performance teams.

Seni Sulyman is the founder and community manager of Black Ops, a network of top African operators building great companies and cultures across the world. Before starting Black Ops, Seni helped scale Andela’s operations from series B to series D with over 1,000 team members across US and Africa offices.

Chichi Offodile is the COO of Helium Health. She has over 15 years of experience working at EMC/Dell and Deloitte.

Their Journey at Helium Health and Andela

The conversation begins with Chichi and Seni talking about their journeys at Helium Health and Andela respectively. They both stepped in when each company had a viable product/service, some traction, and funding.

For Chichi, she was brought in when Helium Health had figured out what it was doing but was uncertain about how to move forward. Her strength lies in figuring out how to build a sustainable company and that’s what she set out to do via a transformation plan.

Seni joined Andela in 2016 when the company was in only two markets – Nigeria and Kenya. At that time there had been a few leadership exits and the general employee morale was low. His mandate was to stabilize the ship. Which he did before focusing on operational expansion.

How do you begin the transformation process? 

For Seni, he believes the transformation process should start with the why— otherwise known as communicating a vision that galvanises everything. At Andela, he had to create a modified version of the vision that was more compelling to the team. 

After clearly articulating the vision, decide on the steps to take to achieve the vision. This involves setting performance indicators and reviews, so it’s clear what the goals are and whether people are hitting them.

How does a high achiever culture permeate a company?

Both Seni and Chichi believe that it starts with hiring people with the potential to be high achievers and then setting a good example as a leader. 

Giving people room to execute the tasks they’ve set out to do is also an important factor. 

“I make sure that leadership allows people to be creative. Allow people to execute. If you don’t give people the opportunity to succeed, you’ll be stifling them. I motivate people by allowing them to set their goals and fix a timeline to achieve it,” Chichi said.

Building cohesiveness within the team

Great things are rarely ever done by one person. How do we ensure that the team sticks together?

Seni believes the people have to align on the why. This alignment has to start from the top, there has to be a unified strategy at the top level. 

“Strategy is a lot more of what you’re saying No to than what you’re saying Yes to,” he said.

Citing an example of when he had to build cohesiveness within a team, he said that during his time at Bristow he noticed that two senior executives weren’t aligned on the company’s direction. One person wanted a high-end airline, while the other person wanted a low-cost airline.  

To resolve this issue, he had to call both of them together to iron out their differences before the company could move forward.

How do you get teams to keep going without burning out

A common challenge high-performance teams face is that they experience burnout due to the intense and fast-paced nature of work. 

Seni responded to this question by stating that he thinks that the issue with the pandemic and people experiencing burnout is that a lot of people were thrown into remote work without warning. 

The solution to this is to encourage people to take time off work since the line between work and rest can be blurry. As a leader, you have to practice what you preach. 

In order to encourage people to take some time off work, he often schedules his emails sent in the middle of the night to go out by the next morning to avoid creating unnecessary work or a sense of urgency.

Another activity that helps is social gatherings, it’s important for companies to have occasional fun hours. One-on-one sessions are also helpful. These are open-ended meetings with employees, where the manager finds out how they’re doing as human beings and what’s going on in their lives.

He ends with a caveat – it’s a little difficult to build a high-performing team without working really hard.

“You cannot work 80 hours a week every week, you’ll burn. You also can’t work 40 hours every week and materially change the world.”

You have to be thoughtful and deliberate in getting work done.

Chichi adds that she believes companies also need to do two things.

They have to be deliberate with capacity planning. If you’re growing as a company, you can’t expect to have the same set of people working at the same level while the company is expanding. You need to hire more people or adjust people’s roles.

Be open about flex working. The output is the most important thing, let people work in ways that work for them.

At what point should a company hire an operations lead?

Chichi’s response to this question is that the first thing to do is to have a thought process to manage operations but as soon as you have funds for it, please hire.

Watch the full conversation here

Daniel Adeyemi Author

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