How a creative business radically removed all its managers

We removed all our managers at Treehouse in June 2012 and life has never been better. Whether you're a freelance designer, running your own agency, or working for a larger company, I believe our experience can give you fresh ideas on how teams can work together without being slowed down by process and politics.

The founding principle of #NoBoss companies is this: people want autonomy, mastery and a meaningful mission.

Most companies give employees a mission and help them achieve mastery, but won't give employees autonomy. Bosses don't really trust employees to make good decisions. This is bizarre because employees make very important decisions on life and death issues, like parenting, but at work they can't be trusted to make good decisions. Adults are being treated like children at work instead of the talented, driven and smart people they really are.

I believe the projects and companies that will change the world will be driven by talented, autonomous people working together towards a meaningful purpose. This sounds wonderful but is it actually possible to let people at work truly be self-directed with no management?

Happier, faster

Hell yes. At Treehouse we have over 60 people, 50,000 students and 40,000 lines of code in our app. It's getting big and complex, and yet the company is happier, faster and more innovative without managers. And more importantly, our customers say we've been improving the app and releasing new courses faster than ever.

Here's how we do it: we built a simple Ruby on Rails app to allow anyone to submit a project. A project could be anything from painting the office walls to launching a brand new part of the business. They fill out the description, goals, measures of success and deadline. Then they decide what kind of people they need to help complete the project. For example, if it's building an Android app, then they'd need a designer and a developer.

Hit the button

Once a day, a summary of all the new projects is emailed to the whole company. If you see a project that looks interesting, you can join it. If enough people join it to fill all the necessary roles, then someone hits the big 'Start' button and the project gets underway. It's that simple. No sign off from me or a manager. They just do what they think is right and work hard till it's done.

Once a project is underway, the only requirement is to do a daily status update on the project page so that everyone knows what's going on. That way, anyone can drop by the project page and get a quick overview of what the project is, who's working on it and where it's at. If they have questions, then they create a discussion (like a forum post) and everyone who's on the project gets an email to say there's a discussion happening.

We don't have any regularly scheduled meetings or any stand-ups. They're not necessary because if you want to know what's going on with a project, then you go to the project page. Meetings are only used to actually discuss important decisions or actions and, more importantly, they only involve the people who actually care and are affected by the project.

Since we don't drag people down with meetings, getting sign-offs from their managers, doing one-to-ones or other busy work, they can spend almost 100 per cent of their time on actually doing.

We decided to design the whole system on the belief that people want to do a great job instead of protecting us from the few folks that will abuse the system. So far it's working extremely well and if companies like Gore are #NoManager, and have over 9,000 employees, then I think we can do it too.

If you want to know more about the details about how we operate, I've been documenting it on my blog.

Words: Ryan Carson (opens in new tab)

Ryan Carson is the co-founder and CEO of online school Treehouse. This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 251.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

The Creative Bloq team is made up of a group of design fans, and has changed and evolved since Creative Bloq began back in 2012. The current website team consists of six full-time members of staff: Editor Kerrie Hughes, Deputy Editor Rosie Hilder, Deals Editor Beren Neale, Senior News Editor Daniel Piper, Digital Arts and Design Editor Ian Dean, and Staff Writer Amelia Bamsey, as well as a roster of freelancers from around the world. The 3D World and ImagineFX magazine teams also pitch in, ensuring that content from 3D World and ImagineFX is represented on Creative Bloq.