I am a software developer in a startup and cannot get a definitive answer on who my line manager is. I always get the response that it is 1 of 2 people (1 is sort of like the lead dev/ architect/ scrummaster/ person that signs my holiday requests and the other is like the CTO but only ever deals with technical product stuff.) I sort of want to know because I am unhappy about certain things about the way the development team is led/managed and will probably leave but unsure what to do. (I have informally tried to talk to the architect/scrummaster guy about the issues I have with him but they haven't been very productive so far.)

My question is simply: am I being unreasonable thinking it's important the company tell me definitively who my line manager is? I guess it's important to me because if it's the 1st guy (who is causing some of the issues and I have already unsuccessfully talked to) then I am more likely to just leave without taking it further... I'm not sure really why it matters to me to be honest, I just wanted to know...

  • 2
    There are some companies that do have a structure like that and you will not get and answer to a definite line manager.
    – paparazzo
    Apr 29, 2016 at 15:46
  • Who is most likely to affect your pay?
    – user8365
    Apr 29, 2016 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


am I being unreasonable thinking it's important the company tell me definitively who my line manager is?

Yes and No. You are just wasting your time trying to sort out hierarchies, which seldom exist and more importantly, seldom matters in startups.

So, what should you do now?

Walk straight to one of the seniors (or the founding members) and explain to them how you are feeling, and whether they can help or not.

If you are still not convinced after talking to them, then maybe you should leave, cause you, hanging in when you're hating the work(or the environment, or the team), is not only toxic for you, but also for the startup.


Matrix management in a startup is actually extremely common. This is more or less because in many early stage startups, many people are doing many things that a more stable and mature company would likely have different dedicated people to do things. If you tried to map relationships of who reports to whom, in which role they play, I would be willing to make a bet that your relationship map would look less like an organizational tree, and more like a pasta bowl!

In my work with different sized firms, I ran accross someone by the name of Kim Scott who said something that really resonated with me:

For a minute, I thought, this is where the a-holes really have the advantage. But that's not right either. Good managers give a damn.

Management is something that eveyrone needs, no matter how well founded and independent you are. And here is a secret: management is a very personal thing. It's one person building a relationship and exchanging services with another person.

THe trick is, recognizing what the management constructs your startup has actually are.

  1. Does anyone have a manager?

WHat makes you different? Why do they have one? How does thier job differ from yours? Are you more senior? How is your relationship with the people generally more senior than you?

  1. How do you get work direction?

Who does it? Do they also coach you or does that come from someone else? Does anyone coach you on how to connect with the company? Management really is about more than just how to do your job, its also about how you fit and helping you be a part of something bigger than you or me.

  1. Do you trust someone enough to approach them about this issue?

Measure your approach. Explain you would like to be better and do more for them. It's not about what I want and what I have and what I need. Its about "the startup needs awesome, and I want to be more awesome to help the startup be awesome. Gee, [person I trust], would you mind sharing how you see this in your area? How do you deal with the ambiguity? [And if you really do have a strong relationship, maybe even Would you mind coaching me.]"

  1. Even if you cant get a formal manager, build a relationship with that trusted person and maybe get an Advisor.

Getting feedback is critical. Getting tied into the company is also very important. Finding new ways to connect and integrate, to manage work, and to grow as hopefully the startup goes through the growing pains of more money and customers, will be an essential part of how you survive the VC cycles and hopefully make money on all of this work.

Oh... and read some of the other startup management lessons from Kim over on First Round.


It sounds like you hope for change. If so, finding your line manager is only important as a show respect by approaching him/her first. Subsequently change can only happen either if:

  • A company has a set of core values that is strongly adhered to
  • You 'connect' with someone of 'influence'

With core values, things are 'easier'. You can approach any senior person as suggested by @ThatGuy, @Dawny33, and put forth your case that core values has been violated.

Without core values, people with 'influence' can arbitrarily decide on what is right, so you have to find that person who wants to listen, agrees with you, and will fight for the change you desire.

NOTE: A person's 'influence' can exist in many forms, e.g., hierarchy, equity-owned, seniority, skill, contribution.

This is just one of the many reasons, why joining a company committed to a set of core values that you respect is crucial for career development, and happiness.

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