Imagine a workplace without bosses. Bill Gore, founder of W.L. Gore and Associates in Newark, Del., created a corporate culture defined by employee self-management and motivation--and a company that has been profitable for the past 32 years.
The manufacturer of the water-resistant Goretex fabric, as well as electronic connectors and other high-tech fabrics and products, W.L. Gore and Associates is a $250 million company with 15 locations and annual sales in the vicinity of $1 billion. Its more than 5,000 employees are known as "associates," and there is no hierarchical structure. There isn't even a corporate policy manual. Associates are evaluated each year and rewarded through incentives such as profit sharing and stock options.
One Big Team W.L. Gore's associates are part of one big team known as a "lattice organization." Cross-functional and cross-level subteams are constantly being formed and dissolved by Gore associates as necessary, to carry out specific tasks and projects. For associates who are up to the challenge of an ever-changing organization, the lattice organization offers an energizing environment.
The key characteristics of W.L. Gore's lattice structure are:
1. Lines of communication are direct--from person to person--with no intermediaries.
2. There is no fixed or assigned authority.
3. There are sponsors-- not bosses.
4. Objectives are set by the same people who are charged with making them happen.
5. Tasks and functions are organized through a system of commitments.
Leaders Emerge Naturally From the Ranks Because there are no hierarchies, there are no set channels of communication. What this means is that associates communicate with each other any way they choose to. This has more or less eliminated the need for formal meetings.
Most important, because associates don't have titles, they are not locked into particular jobs and tasks. Instead, they're motivated to take on new and challenging assignments. Leaders emerge naturally from the ranks of associates.
In an internal memo, founder Bill Gore described the leaders in his company:
1. The associate who is recognized by his or her team as having special knowledge or experience.
2. The associate the team looks to for coordination of activities to achieve the agreed-upon objectives.
3. The associate who proposes necessary objectives and activities and seeks team consensus on objectives.
If leaders don't work out, they can easily be reabsorbed into the team. But most of the time, they do.
1. Think about what the company needs today, not what has been done in the past--What would make your employees more effective in getting their jobs done? What are they excited about?
2. Don't assign leadership, let it emerge--The best leadership today is earned from those being led. Don't let managers rely on the power of their positions, authority, or fear to get work done when they manage others.
3. It's okay if a new change doesn't work--Just be quick to learn and try again. Management in times of change requires constant experimentation. Regularly evaluate your role in helping employees to meet their goals.