Jan 17

This is the fifth 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
    • The tools we use for communication (I only answer around 10 emails per day)
  • Part 5 (this article)
    • The six cons of a #NoManager company

Negative #1: Lots of chaos

Normally companies have a tightly controlled priority list (determined by the executives and communicated down the ranks) and all activity is focused on this.

Being a part of a #NoManager company feels like being part of an ant colony. Everyone is really busy doing something. It’s not entirely clear what’s happening, but there is a lot of activity and eventually large structures/tunnels get built. 

I know for a fact that we have Projects that were started and eventually abandoned because another Project was conflicting or duplicating their work. This is obviously a waste, but we feel that some waste is inevitable and we’d rather take a slight hit on productivity than happiness.

The chaos comes from the fact employees in a #NoManager company do something because they think it’s important, not because someone asked them to do it. There isn’t someone above them that can say “I know exactly why PersonX is working on ProjectY”. This feels chaotic because as a CEO, I want to know and control what everyone is working on, but I can’t.

Negative #2: Coordination is very hard

We don’t have Managers to coordinate across Projects so it’s up to individuals to take time to communicate what’s happening on their Project and how it affects others. Non-Managers aren’t used to the level of communication needed to coordinate with other Teams and Projects so there often is not enough proactive communication and coordination.

What is supposed to happen is that folks can read the status updates from other Projects to get a sense of what is happening and how they should act. People get busy though and this often doesn’t happen.

We’re learning that we need to decide as a company what our quarterly goals are, and then propose Projects accordingly. That high level coordination happens at the beginning of each quarter as we set our goals and priorities.

An example of this is that me and my Co-Founder decided we could probably hit a goal of $X million in revenue in Q1 of 2014. We then asked the Team to set their own priorities for how they can make that happen. It took us about two days to hash this out over Convoy and Google Hangouts. Once that was done, then each Team communicated to the whole company what they were planning on doing in Q1.

Negative #3: Starting Projects can be slow

In the past the executives would create a 90-day plan, communicate down to the managers and people would start working. It didn’t matter if the troops thought the priorities were good or bad - they just did what they were told.

Now you have to propose a Project, explain it thoroughly and convince people to join. This process can take weeks or months. Often no one wants to work on your Project and it dies. 

Negative #4: I can’t make people do things

Pre #NoManager all I had to do to get something done was ask someone. As the CEO they had to do what I said. Now I have to convince people that they should do something. It’s much better for the company but extremely frustrating for me. I’ve had people tell me they don’t have time or aren’t interested in my ideas. It sucks but it’s part of running a #NoManager company.

Occasionally my Co-Founder and I will absolutely need something to happen. If that’s the case, we “pull our Co-Founder card” and politely ask someone to get something done. We try to do this as little as possible but it does happen occasionally.

Negative #5: It takes longer to understand what’s going on

In normal companies all the CEO has to do is have a meeting with his executive team, and he’s up to speed. Not in a #NoManager company. When I return from holiday and I’m out of the loop, I have to spend about two days reading through status updates and chatting to people. 

It’s frustrating. I’m not going to lie.

Negative #6: Harder to hire people

Hiring people in a #NoManager company is a collective decision so it takes longer. Tommy Morgan describes our general process for hiring Developers (which is similar to other roles) in this post. The final step in that process is that the team (for instance the Design Team) has to all agree they should hire this person. If anyone has doubts, then we don’t hire.

A lot of people think they want to work without managers, but actually they like the security of someone telling them what to do every day. This means working at a #NoManager company isn’t right for everyone, therefore cutting down the potential number of people we can hire. 

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  1. thisiskin reblogged this from ryanleecarson
  2. shalabh7 said: An alternative title : A whining CEO’s list of perks that are enjoyed by team members of a no-manager-set-up
  3. ryanleecarson posted this

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