In a forest, there is absolutely no waste. Every single element is reused in a continuous cycle. A tree produces leaves. The leaves fall to the ground and become compost. And the forest uses every last ounce of the compost and puts it back into its ecosystem.

We have the exact same idea for Buffer’s organizational design as we move towards a self-managing company. Without any processes, save 4 essential ones, there is little to no occurrence of waste.

As an example, we recently completed our fifth Buffer retreat in Sydney, Australia, and we changed the design of the week of work and play completely to fit the no-manager paradigm.

People could suggest sessions, roundtable discussions, work groups, yoga sessions—whatever they wanted—and team members could opt into any of them (or as few of them) as they wanted—almost like a Barcamp.

This ensured that no sessions were imposed on anyone and therefore nothing was kept alive artificially. Even a session that was extremely popular at this retreat could easily “die” at the next one, if no one chooses to join in. In my mind, this creates a certain level of lightheartedness and fluidity that organizational structures often lack.

Swim or sink

With the territory of a forest comes the somewhat harsh reality of no tolerated inefficiencies. For an organization, I believe this goes to the point of getting rid of the idea of job security. If at any point your offered expertise isn’t requested anymore, there’ll be no more work to do. You might either pick up a new expertise fast—or you might be out.

When nothing is kept alive artificially, things can organically grow or die based on demand from other team members and ultimately the customer. This is the best possible outcome for a company—and the world in general, I believe.

Working less

I also believe that through this, self-managed companies (and Buffer, in this example) can work less to get more done. My estimation is that a self-managed team only has to work 6 hours a day to get the work done that normal companies do in 8 or 10 hours a day.

Since self-managed orgs have no “zombie meetings” or bloated processes, they can operate more efficiently and create the same results in much less time.

On the flip side, this requires a lot of responsibility from individuals to plan their days effectively. It’ll be interesting to observe whether this holds true for us in the future.

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Written by Leo Widrich

Co-founder and COO at Buffer. I enjoy writing about Buffer’s lessons learnt, social media tips and updates to Buffer. For some more personal posts, check out leostartsup.

  • Andrew Meyer

    Leo, this is such a refreshing view on management and efficiency within an organisation. I hope that more firms take this approach in future, I.e. trusting staff and treating them as adults.

  • Are you doing any measuring of the effects of your self-managing changes? I actually already trust that this is indeed an improvement. But I’m curious to see exactly what the details of improvement are. Also seeing the data of your results may help me with choosing how to approach the same thing in my organization as well as selling the idea to my colleagues. I love the thought of organic efficiency!

  • R Anderson

    This seems to be a very good conversation to sponsor, incite. Thanks. I look forward to more.

    Looking at natural processes, be sure to look at Kevin Kelly’s Out of Control (kk.org), on the analogies of natural and technological processes. It might also be good to remember that nature has no focus. What it does isn’t what it “wants” to do. The universe and life seem to have come from an explosion, a chaos, of possibilities. While you can talk about “what nature wants,” as Kelly talks of “what technology wants,” both have to be put in quotes, because both are constructions we use to talk about nature or technology—they are both our brackets, and shouldn’t be confused with the messy reality, which would confuse the map with the territory.

    For instance, Apple, Inc,, couldn’t be generated by nature, and the focus of a Jobs or I’ve is antithetical to natural processes.

    All that said, good luck with your project, both Buffer and your way of doing business!

  • Melanie Allgood Hygema

    I’ve really enjoyed your openness about the organization and it’s evolution. I completely agree that the work generated in 8 hours can be done in 6 without the bloat. I really look forward to more as the company evolves.

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