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5 Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner About Scaling Teams & Culture

October 25, 2021

When businesses rapidly expand, they can lose sight of their initial values and fail to adapt their company culture to their rapid growth.

Meri Williams, CTO at Healx, has led and scaled technology organisations that build and run brilliant products and services in a range of sectors. She excels at scaling up teams, transforming processes and organisations to go from good to brilliant.

In this Turing Fest video, Meri shares the five things she wishes she’d known sooner about scaling teams and culture. You can watch it on-demand here or read about Meri’s 5 steps below.

1. Dry Doesn’t Work For Human Communication

Did you know, a person has to hear something seven times before they hear it for the first time?

As shocking as that statistic is, it’s true. That’s why one of the factors Meri discusses is effective communication and the need to constantly repeat yourself even when you’re at the point of acknowledging your repetition.

“Be clear and be consistent. It’s also important to use the same words whenever you’re explaining something. Whether it’s a strategy, why you’ve come to that decision or why a team is doing something off-topic, constantly communicate it!”

– Meri Williams, Healx

Communicating your idea or decision is not only beneficial for those in the present, but it’s also helpful for future endeavours. It can help you and others make a well informed and better decision in the future.

For example, suppose in the future you or a new employee is curious to know why the company uses a certain database or why the company has selected a specific pattern; previously written and easily accessible communication can provide the answers.

This way, you or future employees can understand the past circumstances and why the company opted for doing something in a particular way and see if those circumstances still apply. If issues surrounding the decision have evolved, so can the next business decision. If not, then they or you can understand why it was implemented in the first place.

2. Scaling Teams is about Creating Conditions for Success

No one likes a ‘bad boss’, yet everyone knows the type. The clueless person who brings little to the team, is pointless and essentially an empty suit. Well, Meri knows just the type and has done everything in her power to be good at being a boss.

Upon researching, she came across a book called ‘First, Break all the Rules’ by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.

This book researched what makes a high performing team, and the answer was simple, a happy team. The results from the research conducted showed that there are 12 predictors of high performance. These include:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

  6. Is there someone at work who cares about my development?

  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?

  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

  10. Do I have a best friend at work?

  11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my development?

  12. At work, have I had opportunities to learn and grow?

Meri’s research didn’t stop there. She also recommended the book ‘Drive’ by Daniel H Pink. This book shares an insight into what excites and motivates people to get up every morning. They identified three things that motivate an individual. These are:

  • Purpose: believing in why you’re doing something

  • Autonomy: getting a say in what’s going on

  • Mastery: being proud of how you’re doing what you’re doing

Along with removing any negative factors that detract from the three elements listed, these elements will motivate a team and create a positive workplace environment.

The 12 predictors that were mentioned above can be categorised into these three motivations.

The need for Purpose and Autonomy are seen across numerous workforces. However, in Meri’s experience, Mastery is often most effective for those within the creative field. For example, designers, developers, content creators, etc.

Although most of the 12 predictors of high performance fall into the three motivational categories, there are three anomalies. These include:

  • In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

  • Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?

  • Do I have a best friend at work?

Meri categorises these three predictors into ‘Inclusion’. Inclusion plays a huge role because it enables a person to look forward to working as they feel part of the team. Although creating an inclusive environment can be challenging, when done right, it’s very rewarding.

So in Meri’s opinion, to create a space that is awesome for all, you need:

  • Purpose

  • Autonomy

  • Mastery and

  • Inclusion

3. Different Inflection Points Exist as You’re Scaling Teams

There are two key points Meri focuses on in this section.

Firstly, whilst your business is growing, different things come ‘for free’ at different inflection points. For example, when you’re a start-up and have less than ten employees, everyone knows everything for free.

Meri explains how the first hurdle faced by startups is their adjustment to creating stronger communication once they’ve surpassed ten employees. Once they have more than ten employees, employers need to actively consider ways to communicate to their team as communication will no longer be ‘free’.

The second inflection point when scaling your business is to focus on the right problems at the right time. People often get too ahead of themselves and emulate a business that is at a different stage from theirs. By trying to solve future issues, they fail to solve those they should have conquered yesterday.

“Pick your focus, but don’t try to aim for the long term because so much will happen before you get there.”

4. With People, Observability is Much Better Than Testing

When it comes to implementing new incentives or benefits, observing your employees and allowing them to offer feedback on what’s been implemented is much better than having the intention to create a healthy environment but never checking whether you’ve achieved it.

“I see far too many people spend all their energy upfront, in trying to do it right, and none of their energy in checking how it’s actually going.”

There are several tools to help achieve this:

If you create a culture where you make it a habit for your employees to give feedback and tell you where they think you went wrong and how you can improve, you’re much more likely to spot the downfalls and improve on them.

5. Culture Add Matters a lot More Than Culture Fit

When recruiting new employees, refrain from looking at those who ‘fit’ into your company’s culture and instead see who can ‘add’ to it.

“Focus on getting the most out of how people are different. You don’t need everyone in the team to have the same skills at the same level. Instead, you need the team to have a bunch of skills at a great or excellent level and then together they will be brilliant.”

When you’re crafting inclusive environments, think about the following:

  1. Whether your team feels expected. E.g. is it evident from your benefits package that you’re expecting parents, or if you work within an office, do you have a place where people can pray so all religions feel included? If so, how are you sending out your messages to show that various people are expected?

  2. Whether or not you are respecting every person. Don’t undermine people, patronise them or make them feel worthless based on who they are as a person. Respect every individual regardless of their job position, age, background etc.

  3. Can people be their true selves? This is what many people observe. They look at whether or not there are differences in the company’s leadership and if they can be themselves at work. If individuals can connect with one another on a human level, they’re more inclined to be themselves. Therefore, if you have this in your business, promote it.

Creating a Company Culture That Includes All

Creating a company culture that is suitable for your business will constantly need refining and observing. Of course, no one gets it right the first time, but going back and observing how you can do it better will only help improve your culture and improve your business.

For more insights into how you can create a company culture suitable for all, watch the Turing Fest talk with Meri Williams live here!

And don’t forget to grab your ticket for this year’s festival. We’re delighted to be joined by some of the most leading technology speakers in the industry who will share their insights into company culture and how you can Build, Grow and Lead in your sector. You can purchase your ticket here.


This post was provided by Kathryn Strachan, Managing Director of Copy House, an award-winning content marketing agency specialising in technology and FinTech, working with brands like Facebook, Klarna and Modulr by helping them build better relationships with their audience.

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