Centaur Stage is a weekly video series produced by Cosmic Centaurs, and this second season is all about the magic of teams. Each Thursday afternoon, on LinkedIn Live, at 3:30 PM UAE-time, Marilyn Zakhour, CEO & Founder of Cosmic Centaurs, is joined by incredible guests who share insights, opinions, and perspectives about what makes teams cohesive, high-performing, and happy.
This episode of Centaur Stage Season 2 is the first of the fourth and last chapter: growing teams. Marilyn hosted Tariq Saiduddin, Partner & COO of Zension Technologies Inc., to discuss the different aspects and challenges in scaling organizations. Watch the full episode here.
About Tariq Saiduddin
Tariq is a Partner and the COO of Zension Technologies Inc., the largest Device Services Platform in the GCC. With a Masters of Business and Languages from the Gothenburg School of Business and Commercial Law, and a Computer Software Engineering Diploma, Tariq’s expertise has helped him lead multiple start-ups into becoming global growth companies over the past few years.
As part of the Zension Executive Partner Team, operating from its Dubai HQ, Tariq and his associates have been working towards enhancing consumer experiences in the embedded financial and technology services sector in the GCC since 2014. After previously holding positions as both CCO and COO, Tariq circled back to his tech background with his current role as CTO, managing the development of myZension.com, a fully serviced online marketplace for all the latest tech devices embedded with Zensions flagship super warranty and anytime upgrade services.
Tariq’s core philosophy when it comes to Zension is to fulfill a service consumers both want and need. With a vision to be the leading Device Consumer Services Provider both regionally and globally, Tariq aims to help Zension build a multifaceted platform, giving more back to consumers.
Working closely with consumer brands like IKEA, H&M, Absolut, and MSN Search, Tariq was also featured on the cover of Microsoft Executive Circle back in 2006 for digitizing and merging his previous companies’ scattered business into one platform. As a “Super Company” award winning CEO in 2011, he has also led conferences in consumer relations, marketing, and technology.
About the Topic
Although the ability to scale and grow is a sign of a team or organization’s success in the marketplace, this process comes with some challenges and growing pains. In fact, according to Startup Genome, 74% of high-growth internet startups fail, because of premature scaling.
When it comes to growing an organization leaders should be especially proactive. This means ensuring they effectively scale the business and customer-centric activities, in addition to the internal structures needed to power this growth. For teams to thrive, leaders should focus on upskilling employees, enhancing performance management, adapting their leadership style to the evolving team dynamics, maintaining a healthy and cohesive culture, and importantly, hiring the right people.
Scaling teams, particularly distributed teams, also often means having a wider geographic distribution. This comes with its own set of difficulties, such as knowing how to stay on top of different global market trends, and having to put more effort in aligning team members. Team leaders must know what to consider when growing their teams across the globe.
Main Takeaways from the Discussion How do you scale a team?
“When you are scaling a business, it's 100% the people you choose to help you scale that business, so it’s all about leadership and having a team of leaders join you for a common cause”, said Tariq. For him, scaling requires having a thorough plan, and thinking the process through, which involves your team members; they will have lots of questions and concerns about the changing goals and purpose of the team and where it’s going.
Tariq stated that just because there is an opportunity to scale, doesn’t mean you should scale. He elaborated, “the more you grow, the harder it is to keep everyone connected to a common purpose. If your purpose is unclear, if you haven't really done your homework, you're not ready to scale, and shouldn't scale.”
According to Tariq, it comes down to leadership in the company. They responsibility for delivering on the organization’s purpose, for setting strategic targets, for espousing values they want employees to embody. He explained that scaling is all about how the organization is built, the processes, and the tools, in that order. Then, comes having a bit of luck and finding the right people. Tariq’s insights reminded Marilyn of Dunbar’s Number, the idea that there is a cognitive limit on human groups of around 150 individuals. She explained that the first human communities were under that number, and were able to be maintained purely by social interactions. After they grew, humans started to see the emergence of religions in their earliest form. “For human communities to organize at scale, they need common myths. They need to believe in the same things. Beyond a certain size in an organization, you have to structure that common myth (the purpose, the values, the way that we behave together)”, said Marilyn.
Marilyn quoted Ben Horowitz, the Co-Founder and General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz: “Managing at scale is a learned skill, not a natural ability”, and asked Tariq, “What skills do leaders need in order to properly scale teams?” Tariq expressed that leaders require much more patience, because there are more people on the team, and not everybody on the team has the same speed of recognition or understanding of what's going on. Changes and decisions cannot be made at the same speed they were made when the team was smaller. “It boils down to communication, clarity of purpose, having the right leader at each level and constantly asking yourself, ‘Why are we doing this? Why is this an important thing?’”, said Tariq.
3 Tips to Leaders of Leaders
Tariq shared some advice to leaders of leaders (senior managers, not middle managers):
1- Lead by example “If you say one thing, and then do something else, people pick up on that disparity. Even in the face of adversity, you need to keep that character going, because that's what others are looking at”, Tariq said.
2-Learn how to listen In Tariq’s perspective, it’s important for leaders to have a junior position first, where they actually have to take orders or accept the fact that they're a part of a team.
3- Communicate Tariq shared his final words of advice, “Communication is the center part of leadership. You can have people around you that are better at strategy and better at giving you the right backup. If you're not good at communicating, if you don't pick that up, it's going to be very difficult.”
Avoiding the scale anticipation fallacy trap
The scale anticipation fallacy refers to judging a team's ability to scale too fast. When leaders fall into the trap, they end up hiring people from outside who are seasoned executives. This has two consequences according to Marilyn: the seasoned executives and senior executives might be too far down their experience curve to adapt how they work to the evolving needs of the organization. The second effect is that internal young leaders lose the opportunity to actually learn everything that they need to learn in the next 12-24 months to get where they can lead at scale.
According to Tariq, being overly wise can backfire in teams, and a little “foolishness” combined with the right attitude can help avoid falling into the scale anticipation fallacy trap. So, Tariq focuses more on his team member’s attitude than the amount of experience they have on their CV, because sometimes people with lots of experience tend to only try solutions that worked with them before, when less experienced team members are more likely to think outside of the box.
“It's about the attitude of the person coming in. If you're going to scale, you're going to need the qualities of both the experienced staff and the staff that is inexperienced”, he said.
Recruiting the Right People
In order to hire the right people, Tariq tries his best to look into what drives candidates and what makes them angry, more than the content of their CV. Knowing that people usually try to show their best side during interviews, probation periods are extremely important to see how one would act in different situations at work. Tariq said, “you need to get under the skin of the person in an interview because everybody just wants to shield themselves from this with their CV, they just want to show you their best side. I'm not interested in their best side. I want to see how they are in a crunch.”
Culture at Scale
In Tariq’s perspective, culture inevitable changes as teams and companies scale, because whenever an organization brings in new people, they bring culture with them. The issue for leaders is to make sure the core culture of their company doesn’t change too much. “As long as the core is still strong, you're okay. If your core isn't strong, then you haven't really planned it through”, Tariq shared.
He explained a concept called “culture explosion”, where when a company culture is not strong enough, people with different perspectives on culture change it too much. This phenomenon is very toxic to organizations. In contrast, a strong culture is also inclusive, Tariq clarified. “When we sit down and map out words that they feel define us, around 50-60% of the time there is a new word. That’s a good process, an evolution of culture. Culture needs to evolve. If you can't evolve, you'll die”, he said.
Tools & Processes
An important aspect of scaling is to document processes in organizations to ensure the knowledge is available to new teams and employees. Tariq stated, “As a scaling company, if you don't have tools and processes set together with the values and purpose, you're in trouble, and you're going to be catching up constantly because of constant internal traffic jams.” He continued, “I think leaders need to be a bit of architects, or at least hire someone who can help you with this kind of stuff, maybe a partner or a consultant.”
Marilyn, who has always vouched for effective documentation agreed with this. For more on how to effectively document, check out our 3-part guide.
To Tariq, conflict in small or big organizations has the same structure of escalation, although they might look different. However, in large organizations, conflicts can simmer for long and cause blockages.
It usually happens because there is no clear leadership, no clarity, transparency, arbitration, no resolution of issues which had be resolved at once. “As soon as you think, ‘This is not important enough to even discuss’, you're going to get it back. It's going to roll back in a few months, and it's going to stop you when you want to take that deal”, Tariq stated.
Connection in Teams
Coming back to the office and meeting team members in person after the global pandemic and lockdowns made Tariq realize how important human interactions are, as he really enjoys sharing joy and laughter, and working and discussing things right over the table. When he comes to the office, he always chats with team members, as he strongly values routines where they have time to talk to each other about other things than just work. “There is a need to communicate with team members regularly, because when you don’t, they feel like they aren’t a part of the team”, Tariq explained.
🔥 Rapid Fire
The one thing every team needs is…”Love.” The one thing a team needs to avoid…”Fear” A good team leader is…”A good listener and a support.” The best book on teams is…”The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz.” What’s your favorite team ritual? “It’s a ritual that comes from Sweden. It's called FECA. FECA means you take a cup of coffee and maybe something to snack on together with your buddies at work, and you talk about everything but work for 10-15 minutes.”