Obinna Ekezie is the co-founder and CEO of Wakanow.com, the leading full-service, online travel company in Africa. Obinna played in the NBA for eight seasons and was selected with the 37th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies after playing with the Maryland Terrapins from 1995-1999. Following his basketball career, Obinna founded Wakanow out of his personal frustration that there were no options to easily book travel online between the U.S. and his native Nigeria and Nigeria and other parts of the world.
Business founders spend a lot of energy finding the perfect candidates, but sometimes we forget to keep building our team's strength. Your team's strength directly correlates to a constant flow of education and influence, two things that are necessary for long-term success.
Soon after launching Wakanow in 2008 -- a full-service online travel company designed to ease travel to and from Africa -- strengthening my team became my main priority. Then after winning Entrepreneur of the Year in the All Africa Business Leaders Award West Africa, 2015, I reflected on this strategy of building a strong team, and continue to make it a priority today.
It all starts during with hiring: Seek out candidates with energy. While there are thousands of qualities to look for, remember that energy can sometimes supersede employees with more experience. If they're hungry to learn, a young employee can be trained.
Once you have built up your core team, here are some strategies that can help you strengthen it.
Evaluate Your Leadership: Lead by Example
Complete awareness of how you lead is imperative. After the craziness of launching a startup, we sometimes lose sight of the skills we've personally developed over the years. Before you do team strengthening, first evaluate your own leadership skills.
Honestly ask yourself some simple questions: Are you offering the best leadership skills? Are you truly leading by example? Are you offering the best advice but doing the complete opposite? The team can only be as strong as their leader.
I evaluate my leadership skills on a monthly basis by asking my team questions and seeing how they're performing. Again, a team is only as strong as its leader, so leadership skills directly correlates to team performance. You must constantly hone your skills.
Remain Passionate: Remember It's Contagious
Successful entrepreneurs share one key trait -- passion for their business. When passion and enthusiasm are present, it transitions into growth. Passion is contagious and can help improve workflow, focus and the overall success of the company.
I know that everyone can't be 100 percent passionate and enthusiastic all of the time; on those off days, simply try your hardest to display positivity and keep your team focused. One of the easiest ways to keep the energy high is by emailing employees and complimenting their work. In these emails, I keep passion at the top of my writing, as I find the emotion spreads.
Clearly Define Responsibilities
If you want to build a strong team, start with clarity around roles. Leave the web designing to the designers, the developing to the developers, and the writing to the writers.
While most team members have hybrid roles in the beginning, once the business starts building and the team grows, clearly define roles. Nothing frustrates employees more than not knowing the details of their workload. And if you have employees with hybrid roles, make sure to clearly define all responsibilities.
Reward Stellar Performance
Remember that feeling when you successfully launched your startup? It felt great; the success of your business was the ultimate reward. If you want the business to grow and continue to offer this personal reward, remember to also reward your employees.
In my experience, employees who are rewarded for better-than-expected performance will provide more commitment to your business, and in turn help the bottom line. Rewards don't have to be monetary; sometimes a simple lunch, coffee or positive email is all it takes. Another simple reward is by caring about the personal lives of your team. Asking things like "how's the baby" or "how was your weekend" can help garner additional respect.
Make it your nature to compliment people, especially those who perform well. It not only shows that you care, but also helps spread a positive vibe throughout the company. I believe positive energy spreads quickly through a company, and it all begins by rewarding stellar performance with compliments.
Hold Employees Accountable
As entrepreneurs, it's typical to hold ourselves accountable for nearly everything. But for strategic strengthening of a team, you must hold every individual responsible for their tasks and responsibilities. This will not only help you train employees but also show their true attitudes. Seeing an employee's attitude under pressure will help a leader decide who advances and who goes -- a must-know metric for growth within any company.
During the early stages of Wakanow, I was holding myself accountable for everything. But as company growth began so did my responsibilities, and I had to let go and leave others responsible for their roles. Unfortunately, the ones who lagged behind were let go. Though unfortunate, in the long term, this was beneficial for the company.
Remember, the basics of strengthening your team are education and influence. If you keep education and influence at the forefront of your growth strategy, you will continue to move forward.