MPELI RAMPOKANYO

Principal Engineer | CSIR

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOUR TEAM SUCCESSFUL?

We have increased our internal communications and the team is encouraged to communicate without fear of being undermined. An environment where everybody can freely express themselves and where everyone is part of the decision making has been created, which I think is testament to how the overall team works together to achieve results.

HOW DO YOU INCLUDE INNOVATION INTO YOUR STRATEGY AND FUTURE OUTLOOKS?

As a regular reader of industry-related material, when I find something that could be of value to the team I always share it with them for discussion. Often there are interesting approaches taken which we examine to see how we can learn from them and adopt them in our projects. In addition, open dialogue sessions are encouraged for any member who wants to share something interesting with the team.

Leaders are in a position to create an enabling environment for every team member to express themselves freely.

HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE OTHERS TO DO THE SAME?

Leaders are in a position to create an enabling environment for every team member to express themselves freely. If you can master this, then this will open up doors for innovative ideas within your team.

WHAT ARE YOUR TEAM’S GREATEST BLIND SPOTS?

Neglecting tasks that are less interesting but are necessary to be completed in order for the project or work to be a success. This situation can be alleviated by keeping a tight schedule on the project deliverables and working on ways to make each task interesting to ensure the team’s high energy and interest is put into practice at every point of the project.

As a leader, it is important to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the team – by giving those less menial tasks to team members that are more self-driven, they can quickly finish the task and proceed onto more detailed and strategic tasks.

HOW WOULD YOU SHIFT THAT LEARNING TO ADVICE FOR OTHERS IN THIS INDUSTRY?

They should make it a point to know what each team members’ interests and capabilities are in order to effectively allocate tasks. The rule of thumb is to get more enthusiastic team members who understand and own the strategy of the team to undertake tasks that are less interesting; even though they would still be doing other more appealing tasks. Additionally, a leader should coach and motivate the less interested team members in such a way that they develop a sense of ownership and make the project a success.

HOW DO YOU SELECT WHO TO PARTNER WITH?

The most important thing is to have an inception meeting with the relevant team to establish a clear understanding of how the organisation conducts business. Once a baseline has been established, the framework is outlined and developed with a set of criteria that will allow one to conduct a gap analysis process.

The gap analysis process will help to identify and analyse the gaps in the processes, followed by making concrete recommendations based on benchmarking with best practices.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?

Being more decisive. I tend to take too much time seeking consensus in every decision I make. I have come to learn that much as reaching a consensus is essential in a team, not every activity requires consensus and the onus is on the leader to make this discretion.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

Genuine appreciation of people’s efforts and praising or rewarding them when they have done well is the most valuable attribute a leader can have. The other is trusting people and believing that they will deliver on the task at hand.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?

Appointing someone I did not get along with as part of my team. I had to look at their capabilities and forget about personal differences. This proved to work out positively as that particular individual saved the project as they motivated other team members by bringing a fresh thinking dynamic to the rest of the team. Surprisingly, our relationship improved as a result.

WHAT IS YOUR ‘SECRET SAUCE’ FOR FOCUSING ON THE GOAL AMONGST THE NOISE?

My secret sauce is passion! If you are passionate about something, then no amount of noise will derail you.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN THAT OTHERS DON’T?

I believe that our paths in life are carved by our very imaginations and how we interact with each other. Our thoughts and deeds define our destiny in life!

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK?

I think renewable technologies, storage systems, microgrids and decentralised systems including blockchain technologies will shape tomorrow’s power networks. We are entering an era of smart systems with abilities such as self-diagnosis, self-healing, transactive microgrids etc. The energy sector is the focal point of this global revolution!

If you are passionate about something, then no amount of noise will derail you.

WHAT INDUSTRY CHALLENGE KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?

The transition to renewable energy; how to get government to do it in the right way (a just transition) without blindly following what has been done in Europe, as our situations are not the same both economically or technically. Our economy is a developing economy and this should be well considered when we transition.

Also, our electrical network architecture is different from our European counterparts and as a result, we cannot just blindly follow what our counterparts in Europe did. We need to afford our engineers enough space to integrate RE generation in the most appropriate way for our system so that we avoid potential catastrophes.