2 Takeaways From GitHub Running a #NoManager Company At Scale

Zach Holman has been giving presentations on how GitHub works for the last couple years. If you’re not familiar with GitHub’s organizational structure, they don’t have any managers and they are mostly remote. It’s been pretty fascinating to watch them grow up with this structure and I’m grateful to Zack for sharing their journey along the way.

The last time Zach presented an update, GitHub had about ~75 employees. They’re now up to 217.

Here are my takeaways from Zach’s latest presentation:

1. Retention Rates Are Ridiculously High

As far as I’m concerned, this is the only slide that matters.

How_GitHub__no_longer__Works

199. That’s the number of people GitHub hired before a single person quit. 

There are two mission-critical reasons you need to care about cultivating a developer-friendly culture. First, culture is a form of advertising that can attract the best people you can afford. Second, living the culture that was advertised should retain those people for as long as possible.

GitHub literally had 0% voluntary turnover for years. This is mind-blowingly awesome and the #1 reason tech-focused founders should take a really close look at whether or not they should build a company without managers.

2. Managers May be Be Optional, But Leaders Are Not

Zach revealed that they now have teams:

How_GitHub__no_longer__Works

The slides don’t explicitly tell us how the teams are organized, but from what I can infer it seems like people can join or leave a team based on their interest in what the team is working on.

Some teams have a “Primarily Responsible Person” whose main job is to provide a vision:

How_GitHub__no_longer__Works

Vision is a function of leadership. In early-stage no manager companies, the visionary should be the founder(s). Even though leaders won’t tell employees how to do their work, they should tell them when something doesn’t fit in with the company’s mission or vision. 

When the product functionality and headcount swells, it makes sense to bring in product/team-level leaders. They can inspire others to see the big picture and offer the doers a way to know whether or not that new thing they want to work on next will push the company closer to achieving their stated mission.

For example, Treehouse recently went to a no manager structure. Here’s how they handle the mission and vision (source):

Who decides company-wide priorities? Who sets the general direction for the company?

Alan and Ryan (the Co-Founders) are actively steering the ship and setting company-wide goals, our Mission Statement and areas of focus.

What are the Co-Founder’s roles in this new system?

Ryan and Alan are still very much leaders of the company. They will decide on company-wide goals, make sure our Mission remains relevant driving force, and keep our current areas of focus updated.

This makes sense for Treehouse, but every company and every founding team is going to be different.

Watch the Presentation

The whole presentation + slides is available here. It’s definitely worth the hour-long investment.