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While I hope this continues to work out for Treehouse, I'm not sure I agree with Ryan's problem statement:

"In my experience, managers’ responsibilities were … - Communicating messages from top to bottom - Settling disputes - Managing careers - Keeping their teams motivated and happy - Shielding their teams from things they didn’t think they needed to know"

I think that's a pretty narrow definition of management, esp. things like "communicating messages from top to bottom".

While I don't disagree with the fact that a significant component of management, esp. large parts of middle management, can be done away with, I don't think any reasonably complex and growing organization can do away with management altogether.

A great manager (who may also play a part as an individual contributor) can channel & amplify an organization's creativity and innovation. S/he will also ensure there is an alignment b/w the organization's high level strategies and the individual contributions being made.

Much as we'd like to think that tech workers are unusually self-motivated or that online tools can fully substitute people management, in my experience neither are the complete truth.

Further reading:

- How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management: http://hbr.org/2013/12/how-google-sold-its-engineers-on-mana... - The Flattened Firm—Not as Advertised: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7000.html - Be a Minimally Invasive Manager: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/10/be-a-minimally-invasive-manager...

Fair disclosure: I'm an MBA...biases, warts and all.




> I think that's a pretty narrow definition of management, esp. things like "communicating messages from top to bottom".

I agree. In my opinion, the biggest and hardest part of management is to take a direction provided from above and turn it into actionable points for those below. Distinctly different from directing communication.

A CEO typically says "we need to increase sales in X vertical". It's up to his VPs to turn that into "focus our software's next features on X's needs", "hire more sales people devoted to X", and "target our marketing more on X". Then the managers look at "focus our software's next features on X's needs" and turn that into "identify X's needs", "create a set of features", and "execute on developing those features based on employee's strengths".

Expecting an employee to turn the "increase sales" message into "develop this feature" is a bit too much to expect, not to mention nearly impossible to scale. Also, expecting the CEO to transform their own directions into individual actionable tasks is going to eat into time they could better spend on other tasks (like talking to customers, speaking at conferences, determining new direction, etc).


Expecting all employees to do that? Not going to happen.

Expecting some employees to do that? Why not? Don't all managers/executives/founders start at the bottom?


Well, it is definitely reasonable to expect some employees to turn the "increase sales" message into "develop this feature"... and the argument is that those employees are (probably) managers. (Or rock stars, if you buy into that.)


I'd hope the CEO instructions might be able to be a little more detailed than "increase sales". Otherwise, the CEO is at risk of seeming to not add any value, direction or vision.


Or technical product owners, who in lots of companies, especially large ones, are "promoted" into management roles simply because they are directing traffic and coordinating activities of the technical staff "beneath" them (The folks also contributing to the product they govern). There are a lot of ways to deal with this that don't involve flattening the whole org.


I love the Treehouse article. 90% of the employees voted for it. The 10% who did not were the managers. :)

I wonder if any managers voted for it; or it any employees voted against it. I would be curious to hear from the displaced Treehouse managers as to what they think about the move. Maybe they were already doing fiefdom building and things that are orthogonal to the founder's vision.

I would also love to hear a follow up a year from now from an anonymous employee or two as to how it worked out.

nb. I did read the article from HBR on Google and managers - while I found it compelling, I also had to wonder whether HBS needs articles like that in their publication to ease the conscience of their students and alumni about the value of their degree and their utility to the companies they work for.


I was one of those Treehouse managers and I voted for it. Still very happy that I did. :)


what were the pros / cons from your perspective?


What does your role at the company pivot into?


It's really not as different as everyone is assuming. Fewer meetings, which is good. :) I wasn't demoted, everyone else was promoted, in a way. Anyone can be a leader. So I'm still leading, it's just on smaller teams and on more focused projects that change more frequently. I'm better able to apply my talents where they're needed from day to day.


Sounds like a challenging and rewarding transition :}


Nick Pettit here. I was the Teaching Team Lead for about a year and then became the Chief Content Officer (CCO) for about 5 months before we went flat.

I can't remember which way I voted. Not just saying that because I don't want to reveal it, I just honestly can't remember. I know it seems crazy that I'd forget such an important decision, but it was a very chaotic time with a million details, a lot of which are foggy to me now. That said, I don't really care which way I voted because I'm incredibly happy now that the dust has settled.

To be clear, nobody was really demoted. I see it as everyone being promoted to being an ultimate decision maker. There are checks and balances in place, but generally everyone is free to serve our students however they think is best.

Being a manager was insanely stressful with no escape. In a typical day I would answer about 150+ emails and have 5-10 meetings. We probably did lots of things wrong that created this situation and we could have learned to be better, but I think being flat is far superior to any evolution of our previous structure.

Management was rewarding at times when the team would hit important goals, but it's poisonous for creativity. I hated killing other people's ideas, but I was the final judge of how we were allocating content production resources and I had to make tough calls in order to hit company goals and deadlines. In our new flat structure, people can execute on whatever they think serves our students best and they don't need anyone's approval to do it. We're now producing more content than ever and I think a lot of it has to do with people executing on projects they're passionate about. I found it extraordinarily difficult to make people passionate about projects that they don't come up with or decide to work on themselves. We're also able to produce more because managers are now free to produce content rather than, you know, manage.

Not only did I kill the creativity of those around me, my own creativity also died a slow and silent death. Now that time has distanced me from that period, I've rediscovered my own passions and entrepreneurial spirit. I'm making websites, always learning about the latest stuff, and I've even been learning iOS in my spare time for fun.

Management also allows little time to eat healthily, exercise, or sleep properly. I've managed (ha!) to gain ~20lbs in muscle mass in the last few months and I'm in the best shape of my life. I never thought a skinny nerd like myself could do that.

Would I do it again? It's really difficult to say. It would have to be a massive financial reward, but I'd be more concerned with the circumstances and the happiness of my team.

TL;DR: Management wasn't for me. I'm happier now than any other time in my life.


> A great manager (who may also play a part as an individual contributor) can channel & amplify an organization's creativity and innovation. S/he will also ensure there is an alignment b/w the organization's high level strategies and the individual contributions being made.

Yep, this. I work in a place that after a merger got rid of the creative director and replaced it with an "everyone is senior" approach. While it's nice on paper, we have no accountability, no one to set or drive standards, and no review process other than client sign-off. I think we would benefit greatly from a Director or VP or some sort of management that could authoritatively say "this is what we're doing and this is how we're doing it".


> ensure there is an alignment b/w the organization's high level strategies and the individual contributions being made

In my experience, that's something that managers say to justify their existence that has no real contribution to the work being done ;) It's all euphemisms for command-and-control, which isn't generally necessary.


Statistically, management is generally necessarry for anything but small organizations.


well for those of us who didn't go for an MBA

ensure there is alignment... sounds a lot like messages from top to bottom

and channel an organizations... sounds a lot like keeping their teams happy.

I'm sure the distinction is important to you but not so much to the rest of us.


That's a fair criticism :)


>A great manager (who may also play a part as an individual contributor) can channel & amplify an organization's creativity and innovation. S/he will also ensure there is an alignment b/w the organization's high level strategies and the individual contributions being made.

in non-MBA speak it is called "foreman".


Hey, he is the founder/ceo, so he should know what his managers did. It may be different from bosses in other companies. But, it sounds roughly correct.


Knowing what his managers did is one thing, knowing what his managers should have been doing is another. The problem is that there's a difference between what's on his list and what the best managers do, and what an organization needs from managers. Which might be why he was having the problems in the first place.


The funny thing is that in the four companies I worked for as an employee, I never once heard those who were being managed say they really valued and benefitted from their Manager and we had plenty of great managers. The founders always thought there was value, but the folks on the bottom rarely did. That doesn't mean the Managers were value-less, just that the perception of their value changes depending on who's talking. In my limited experience, the folks who are actually doing the work on the front lines usually have a better grasp on reality so I'll defer to them.


I think your point about great managers is sound. Treehouse's move may prevent them from building up a cadre of terrible managers, but at the cost of vision and focus.




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