As we grow, we'll increase the number of managers at PostHog. Here's what a manager at PostHog looks like.
Team leads vs managers
You'll sometimes hear us use the term "Team Lead". A team lead is the leader of a small team. Sometimes they also manage the individuals that are part of their team, sometimes they don't.
Team leads are responsible for making sure the team performs well. That includes things like setting context and direction within the team, and making sure the processes and rituals the team uses work well. Like everyone else, team leads should give the people in their team frequent direct feedback.
Team leads should make sure sprints take place on a regular basis, and are conducted transparently. Setting direction means the team leads finalize the sprint priorities. It's ok for team members to change what they picked to work on during the sprint, but it's the team leads' responsibility to help make sure team members have the right context to make good decisions if they change plan, and that everyone starts the sprint pointing in the right direction.
Defining the role of a manager
A manager at PostHog has two tasks:
- Making sure their direct reports are happy and productive
- Setting the right context for direct reports to do their job
A manager at PostHog is not responsible for:
- Setting compensation (we have a compensation calculator and increases are done occasionally/proactively by the people team).
- Setting tasks for their direct reports
- "Approving," whether that's projects, expenses, days off or accounts (people should have admin access by default to most things)
What does setting context mean?
At PostHog, we exclusively hire people that are the best in their field. That means managers won't need to spend time telling their direct reports what to do.
However, for those people to make the best decisions, they need context. The things a manager can do to set context include:
- creating a roadmap that the team can work towards
- helping someone figure out who else to talk to within PostHog
- enabling the team to measure their impact
- improving the process in which a team works (things like standups, reviews etc)
- organizing a team offsite or other meetup to work in person
The shift here, and the biggest difference between PostHog and other places, is that in the end it is up to the individual to make the decisions. All you can do as a manager is set context. From there, you'll have to trust that we've made the right hiring decisions and that the individual is able to execute on that. If they can't, we have a generous severance policy.
Decisions aren't just about buying a piece of software or choosing a color for a button. It's also about what to work on, what to invest time in, or where to take entire parts of our product.
Again, we've hired the best people and have high talent density, so we trust everyone to make these kinds of decisions.
As a manager, it's tempting to see yourself as the sole owner of all the information, and give it out sparingly. People will come to you often with questions (because they don't have the context) and when they do you'll get more validation that holding all the context yourself makes you an Important Person.
What managers should aim for at PostHog is to make themselves obsolete. Share as much context as possible, in written form and in a public channel. That way everyone will be able to do their best work.
Managers also use 1-1s as a useful tool for helping to set context - we've written some FAQs on how to make sure you get the most out of these.
Because of the relatively short list of tasks that managers have, management at PostHog is a part-time job. That means everyone, including the CEO and CTO, still spend the majority of their time on practicing what they do best (which likely isn't management!).
As an engineer, you wouldn't respect the opinion of someone who can't code on a coding specific question. As a designer, you really want your manager to have an eye for design. As an operator, you want to be managed by someone who has scaled a business. That's why it's important for managers to keep practising their craft.
Management tasks do come first, as giving context to your team tends to have a multiplying effect vs getting one more PR out. After that though, it's back to work.
There are teams at PostHog that need to work across functions, so we have an anti-silo approach when it comes to the tasks that people work on.
- Task setting happens transparently in Small Teams. Anyone can read notes from or show up to any of the sprint planning meetings.
- Anyone can give feedback to anyone else on their priorities, and it's our expectation they do so.
- Every Small Team has complete control over what they ship.
This has the added benefit of cross functional teams forming as needed, whilst people having a specialist manager (i.e. an engineer managing engineers) as far as we are able.
How do I make sure my direct reports are happy and productive?
Schedule regular 1:1s. There are three types:
- First 1-1 when a team member starts
- Weekly 1-1s as a regular check in
- Quarterly 1-1s to talk about longer term career plans (make sure you put these in the calendar!)
Talking about long-term career plans every now and again is really important but easy to let slip when things get busy. If you can help people achieve long term plans (whilst hitting PostHog's short term needs) - whether at PostHog or not, you'll get people's best work!
1-1s and team member growth
1-1s are the best way you can support your team members' career growth. We have a set of handy templates to use - feel free to adapt these for each team member.
Most people do a weekly or bi-weekly 1-1 with their manager, with a 30min minimum. Any less than this is too short or infrequent. Try to respect 1-1s and not move them around, and make the effort to prepare - they matter a lot to your team! Make sure that 1-1s don't just become a task update session (we do this async or in sprint planning).
Separately, you should take time once every ~3 months to zoom out and talk about your team's growth path at PostHog and how you can support them. Again, the template has some useful questions you can ask.
There is no formal structure for a growth path at PostHog - it will be unique to the needs and experience of each person.
If you want to learn more, check out First Round Review for at least another 6 articles on how to have great 1-1s!
We provide PostHog managers with training, because:
a) Some of those people have never managed before b) Some of those people may have managed, but never had any support or training c) Those who have managed and had training will benefit because PostHog has a very particular culture and approach to management
Our approach is discussion-based and informal. We do everything internally as we believe this will result in a more relevant and useful experience.
We have held three sessions and plan to do one more:
- Part 1: The basics - deck here
- Part 2: Supporting team member growth - no deck. We discussed:
- What are people doing today around team member growth?
- Why does growth matter to your team members?
- Example growth conversations & plans (good and bad)
- What does a good growth conversation & plan look like at PostHog?
- The output of this session was the section above, which includes new 1-1 templates to help guide growth conversations
- Part 3: Difficult conversations - deck here
Ongoing support for managers
Once we've completed these sessions, we plan to run a recurring optional session for managers to join, using the following structure:
- Welcome and role assignment (lead, notes). - 5min
- How has the last month been, and raise any particular challenge you'd like to discuss. You don't always have to bring something to the group to discuss. - 10min
- Group selects 1 or 2 challenges to discuss in depth. Usually you'll find there will be a topic applicable to multiple people.
- Roundtable coaching - 45min
There are a million good books out there and you'll want to read more widely, but these ones have been recommended by multiple members of the team:
- The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo (great for first time managers)
- High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil (covers a lot of ground beyond management)
- The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky (ditto)
- Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg (communication-focused, not specific to management)
Some good blogs: