Apr 18


I get a lot of emails, phone calls and tweets that can be summarized like this …

If you don’t have managers, and the team is distributed around the World, who decides priorities and makes decisions about the product?

Great question! We have 70+ full-time employees, 70,000 Students and are doing over $10,000,000 in revenue a year, so let’s dive in …

I’ve already blogged about how we set company-wide priorities but what we’ve discovered is that everyone needs three views:

  1. 30,000 foot - What are our company-wide goals? What’s our market and our business plan?
  2. 5,000 foot - What are our current, next and near-future Projects, broken down by ‘Focus Areas’ (more on that below)
  3. 10 foot - What should I do today?

30,000 foot

My Co-Founder, Alan, and I set our company-wide goals and mission. We communicate this in two ways:

  1. Company-wide meetups once a year where we all get together for a week at a hotel to hang out, drink, and go in hot tubs (a lot).
  2. Monthly 15-minute videos where we talk about big-picture things we see happening.

5,000 foot

We use three primary tools for project management and communication at Treehouse: Flow, Convoy and HipChat.

Flow is our project management software, Convoy is our company-wide forum and HipChat is for chat.

What Convoy and Flow weren’t doing is helping people understand what everyone else was planning on doing next, and in the near future. A lot of companies use a 90-day plan but we don’t do that because there isn’t a management team to decide what’s important - everyone decides. However, this leads to a ton of conversations that went like this:

I see this big problem/opportunity over here. Does anyone know about this? Is anyone planning on tackling this at some point? What’s our plan in this area?

Eventually we’ll wind this into Flow, but for now, we’re using a very simple Google Doc that’s broken down like this:


  1. Current Projects that are high priority
  2. Next Projects that are high priority
  3. Future priorities


  1. Current Projects that are high priority
  2. Next Projects that are high priority
  3. Future priorities


  1. Current Projects that are high priority
  2. Next Projects that are high priority
  3. Future priorities

etc …

Focus Areas

The above three areas (Marketing, Content, Operations) are examples of what we call Focus Areas. They are teams of people that tend to focus on specific parts of the business. They are comprised of many different types of job roles like Designers, Developers, Teachers, etc.

People choose to join or leave these Focus Areas as they see fit (providing that it won’t hurt the team). Realistically that doesn’t happen very much. People seem to be staying inside their chosen Focus Area.

When a Focus Area wants to add more people to itself, they OK it with me and my Co-Founder and then when we hire new people, they can choose which open slots they want on Focus Areas with open slots.

10 foot

Since we don’t have managers, everyone decides what they do with their time, 100% of the time. If you want to read more about how we decide what to do every day, and communicate that to others, head over here to my post on Quartz.

What about the Product?

We have a way to set priorities and communicate them clearly, but isn’t our Product going to end up disjointed because there isn’t one strong vision? 

I can only speak from experience and I have to say that, in my humble opinion, the user experience on Treehouse is great. Do we have problems? Yes. But on the whole, I’m very proud of what we’ve built - all without 90-day plans, managers and a big office that everyone has to commute to every day.

[Thanks for the photo gerrydincher]

May 02


Recently we tried something new at Treehouse and it’s working wonderfully well, so I thought I’d share the secret with you.

We recently crossed the invisible it’s-impossible-to-communicate-effectively line. The strange place where it feels like you’re small enough as a company not to have ‘communication procedures’ but large enough that somehow everyone is no longer on the same page (and misinformation spreads like wildfire). For us, that number was around 30 employees. We’re at 53 now, so it was time for a new strategy. 

Previously, we used Campfire as our ‘water cooler’. The place we’d hang out and chat about stupid stuff, random news, celebrations, etc. This was really important because we have a distributed team across the World, so we couldn’t rely on physical interactions to boost morale and communication.

The problem is that if you miss a conversation in Campfire, it can be difficult to go back and figure out what happened. The lack of threading, comments and up/down votes makes it very difficult to decipher what’s worth reading and what’s just random banter. Everything has the same importance in a chatroom.

Internal Reddit-clones

In an email thread about this issue, Jim brought up the idea of building an internal Reddit-clone. He cranked it out in a couple days, called in Convoy (because the movie is full of awesomeand here’s what it looks like …


The idea is simple: If it’s not actionable or urgent, post it to Convoy. Here’s the general guidelines:

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

Jim even built in a bit of gamification with points and user activity streams …


We still use Campfire for quick banter that’s too transient for Convoy. The Developers and Designers live in Campfire and really use it as a hive-mind. The rest of us though tend to abuse Hubot a bit in Campfire but leave the real discussions and random posts for Convoy.

We don’t have any rules about having to check Convoy or Campfire. It’s all about how much each person wants to stay connected. If they’re feeling out of the loop or disconnected, Convoy is a fun and easy way to jump back in.

Now that we’ve been using Convoy for a couple weeks, I definitely feel a palpable difference in the company culture. We’re more connected and everyone is having a chance to weigh in on discussions. Previously, you’d see these huge email threads about topics that may or may not interest you. Now email is less noisy and a lot of the discussions are happening in Convoy. Email is preserved for actionable items, which is great.

In conclusion, I’d highly recommend using an internal Reddit-clone so that your Team has a chance to discuss non-urgent/non-actionable topics or just offer encouragement or distraction. We love it.

Apr 17


As we scale Treehouse, I’ve been getting an on-the-job-MBA. It’s both stressful and really fun at the same time. One new tactic I’m trying is a bi-weekly 30 minute 1-on-1 meeting with each person I lead, with a very specific agenda. 

I have a 30 minute meeting (Google Hangout or in-person), every other Monday, with the following folks:

  1. Chief Content Officer - Nick Pettit
  2. Chief Operating Officer / Chief Financial Officer - Mike Watson
  3. Chief Marketing Officer - Alan Johnson (He’s my Co-Founder but he’s running the Marketing Team for a year)
  4. Chief Commercial Officer - Chris Zabaleta
  5. Head of Design - Jeremy Jantz
  6. Head of Web Development - Tommy Morgan
  7. Head of Mobile Development - Marshall Huss
  8. Head of Treehouse Labs - Jim Hoskins

Managing eight people is about right. Probably a little on the high side for a CEO, but it’s a good structure for us right now.

The agenda

  1. What are the top five things you’ve been working on the last two weeks?
  2. Do those match to the items you’re accountable for in the 90 Day Plan?
  3. What are you doing to advance the careers of the people you lead?

I use a Trello Board with a list for each person. Each 1-on-1 I ask them to pre-populate a card with those three items as lists. I’ve made an example public board for you to see.

Don’t manage People, manage Activities

I got the idea of this 1-on-1 meeting structure from Rod Rice, an all-star executive who I met recently. He was key in taking Bowflex from $2m in revenue to $600m. Not bad :)

Our leadership team is currently reading Mastering the Rockefeller Habits and I got the idea of managing activities, not people. No one wants to be ‘managed’. However, they do want to be guided on whether they’re working on the right thing, at the right time. 

The 1-on-1 meeting structure above really focuses your Team on what actions they’re taking to advance the company’s goals. I’m not delegating things to my Leaders. I’m asking them what they’re doing to advance the goals of the company. They have freedom to attack our top priorities however they see fit, and then I hold them accountable to that.

Jul 06

Yesterday I sent out an email to the whole Treehouse Team:

Hi Everyone,

We’re growing fast which is insanely exciting. However, one of the bad things that happens as a company grows is ‘title creep’. Things like ‘Lead’, ‘VP’ and ‘Director’ turn into ‘SVP’, ‘Lead Director’, etc. It’s bad as it causes confusion and bad feelings.

At Treehouse we’re simply going to have three job titles:

  • Team Leader
  • Sub-Team Leader
  • Team Member

Generally, people can manage 5 - 15 people, and then things start getting out of control. If a Team grows to over 15, then someone in the Team might rise to become Sub-Team Leader. The person that’s right for that role will usually rise to the position naturally because they enjoy leading and are good at it. Right now we don’t have any Sub-Team Leaders as the Teams aren’t big enough yet.

If you need to use a job title, please go with this pattern: ‘Job - Team Name’ or ‘Job - Sub-Team Name’. Examples would be ‘Team Leader - Sales Team’, ‘Designer - User Growth Team’ or ‘User Growth Team’. 

I’ve created a drawing to help everyone understand how the Teams relate and who’s leading them.

- Ryan

Here is a public version of the Team Chart.

I had made the mistake of giving people management titles because they were the first person to join a Team. Now everyone starts off as just ‘Team Member’ and then if appropriate, they get promoted to Sub-Team Leader or Team Leader.

I got the idea to have three job titles from Tom Katis, the CEO of Triple Canopy, a security company with 7,000+ employees. I met him at Founders Forum and told him how our company was growing very fast and I was dealing with interesting new challenges because of the growth. One of challenges was structuring the Team for success and removing unnecessary friction.

He served in Afghanistan for the US Military and then started Triple Canopy. He took what he learned from the management structure of the armed forces and applied it to his company. I thought it made a lot of sense, so we’re now implementing it at Treehouse.

Please share your thoughts on how you deal with this at your company.

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