Oct 09

This is the fourth article in my series on why we removed all managers at Treehouse. Here are the other articles …

  • Part 1
    • Why we removed our managers
    • What managers actually do
    • What really motivates people
  • Part 2
    • How people choose what to work on
    • How priorities are determined
    • How Projects work and what tools we use
    • How budgeting works
  • Part 3
    • How career progression works
    • How compensation works
    • How reviews and discipline work
  • Part 4 (this article)
    • The tools we use for communication (I only answer around 10 emails per day)
  • Future articles
    • The pros
    • The cons
    • The future

Communication Tools

We actively discourage use of email because it silos information, discourages accountability and causes busywork. The default mode of communication at Treehouse is ‘public’. This is important because without managers, everyone needs to be able to drop into a Project and understand where it’s at. If all the progress and information is hidden away in email, no one can access it except the sender and receiver.

We have four primary tools:

  1. Convoy - General discussions, celebrations, animated GIFs, banter and trolling
  2. Flow - Project status
  3. HipChat - Group chat and IM
  4. Email and Docs - Google Apps

Our hope is to open source Convoy and Flow at some point, but it’s not high on our priority list right now.


We’ve found that the forum model works really well for company-wide discussions. We built a simple Reddit-clone to do this (read more on that here) called Convoy.

Email is a terrible tool for group discussion because …

  1. It clutters everyone’s inbox
  2. It’s hard to parse discussions because of the lack of threading
  3. You have to evaluate if you should open/archive/delete/star each incoming email

Convoy is great for company-wide discussions because …

  1. You only read/interact with things that interest you
  2. Voting up/down adds a subtle and quick way to interact with other people without having to type
  3. We have person-tagging so that if you want someone to see something, you simply type @persons-name and they get a notification inside Convoy (not email).

Convoy has worked wonderfully for us. We use it for …

  1. Discussing competitors
  2. Throwing around ideas
  3. Trolling each other and having fun
  4. Celebrating victories
  5. Discussing industry news or trends

The drawback of Convoy is that it can be distracting. You need to have a highly disciplined team to self-police themselves. This is a general drawback of #NoManagers - it’s noisier and more chaotic. Our belief, however, is that creativity and innovation arise from the chaos.


Since we don’t have Managers to decide which ideas get implemented, we had to build a simple tool to allow anyone to propose ideas and tell the whole Team.

I explained how we use Flow in this post, so if you want details, please head there.

Once a Project is started, there is a discussion forum attached to the Flow project. If you want to discuss something then you create a new discussion thread. Everyone who’s joined the Project is then emailed so they can stay in the loop. We felt email was necessary because if you’ve joined a Project, then you should be aware of all discussions related to the Project. 

Every day, you update your status on the Project in Flow. This way anyone can drop by the Project page and see what’s happening, without bothering anyone.

The actually project management happens outside Flow. Each Project chooses whatever software or system they feel is best suited for the Project. This has caused some friction in the company as some people want Flow to also offer Project Management functionality (like Basecamp or Trello). I’ve been against this idea as I feel it could bloat pretty quickly into a Trello/Basecamp clone, which is overkill.

Flow is basically a simple communication tool: Which Projects are happening, who is working on them and what their current status is.


We use a group-chat/IM tool called HipChat. It’s a desktop/mobile/web app for private group chat. We currently have 23 rooms spanning everything from ‘Design’, ‘Marketing’, ‘Audio’ to ‘The Nerd Herd’.

Anyone can create a room and they’re primarily used for quick-fire chat related to Projects. Because I’m the CEO, I join almost all rooms so I can get a birds-eye view of what’s happening.

We ask everyone in the company to log into HipChat during work hours. We’re spread out over the World so everyone needs to be contactable.

Email and Docs

We use Google Apps for our email and documents. We use commenting and live-editing in Google Docs quite a bit. We only use Excel for finances (Google Spreadsheets can’t handle the complex spreadsheets we need for financial models).

Email is email. Blech. Here are the email rules …

  1. Don’t use it unless it’s your last resort
  2. Never discuss Projects in email. Use the discussion forum in the Flow Project. All information should be as public as possible.
  3. Don’t worry about inbox zero. Focus on your Projects in Flow. Ideally check your email only once or twice a day.


We use this rubric to determine the urgency of communication …

  • Phone or Google Hangout: Need an answer immediately
  • IM or Text: Need an answer in the next hour
  • Flow Discussion: Need an answer in next day or two
  • Email: Need an answer in next day or two
  • Convoy: No answer required

Next time ….

I’ll cover the large Pros and Cons to a #NoManager company.

[Thanks to chrisperriman for the photo.]

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