Data

General Issues
Business
Location
Delaware
United States
Links
https://www.gore.com/
Start Date
Ongoing
Yes
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of private organizations
Approach
Co-governance
Leadership development
Spectrum of Public Participation
Involve
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Limited to Only Some Groups or Individuals
Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
captive
Legality
Yes
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Staff
No
Volunteers
No

CASE

Workplace Democracy at W.L. Gore & Associates Inc.

First Submitted By Institute of Development Studies

Most Recent Changes By Scott Fletcher, Participedia Team

General Issues
Business
Location
Delaware
United States
Links
https://www.gore.com/
Start Date
Ongoing
Yes
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of private organizations
Approach
Co-governance
Leadership development
Spectrum of Public Participation
Involve
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Limited to Only Some Groups or Individuals
Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
captive
Legality
Yes
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Staff
No
Volunteers
No

W.L. Gore & Associates Inc. consistently ranks as one of the best companies to work for. It is unique in it's use of the lattice method of employee self management.

Problems and Purpose

Hierarchical, top-down decision-making is the norm in capitalist enterprises, reflecting a ‘Taylorist’ command-and-control ethic. Here, workers rarely own substantial shares of their company’s capital, marginalising them vis-à-vis shareholders and managers.[1] While hierarchies can enhance management effectiveness, they can also stifle innovation and drive disenfranchisement.[2]

W. L. Gore and Associates (best known for its brand Gore-Tex) is a privately-held multinational company based in the US with a unique organisational culture. Its lattice method of employee self-management is said to verge on ‘true’ workplace participatory democracy, like a large self-directed work team instead of a hierarchical firm.[3] All workers are known as ‘associates’; there are no narrowly defined job titles; the CEO is elected; and workers are responsible to their team, rather than a manager. All associates are part-owners via a stock plan.[4]

Background History and Context 

W. L. Gore and Associates Inc. (Gore) is a privately-held multinational company founded in 1958, [5] it now has more have 9,500[6] ‘associates’ and makes more than $3 billion in revenue.[7] Since its founding, Gore has operated through a lattice method of employee self-management. The idea for a lattice method stems from Bill Gore experiences working for DuPont in the 1950s.[8] At the time, Gore was attempting to create applications for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), trademarked as Teflon by DuPont,[9] but decided to leave the company when he felt that “potential for innovative breakthrough seemed to be stifled there by hierarchical ways of organizing and decisions reached within a closed system of communication in the company.”[10]  

Today, after decades of using the lattice method, key features of W.L. Gore and Associates include an almost flat hierarchy in which the CEO is elected, self-managed work teams with small team sizes to secure ownership in collective decision-making, and free information flow. “Associates” (as the workers are known) step forward to lead when they have the expertise to do so; a practice referred to as “knowledge-based decision-making”.[11]

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

W.L. Gore and Associates is a privately-held multinational company that was founded in 1958. Through its profits, the company is able to fund itself and its innovative workplace participatory democracy.[12]

Participant Recruitment and Selection

W.L. Gore and Associates has a very competitive selection process. Before an associate is hired, he/she must meet and agree to mentorship from a sponsor – an associate who must “take a personal interest in the new associate’s contributions, problems, and goals, and serve as both coach and advocate”.[13] Due to the unique culture at W.L. Gore and Associates, the company prefers to hire and promote from within.[14] None of the company's physical facilities are allowed to grow beyond 200 employees to ensure a sense of ownership in collective decisions.[15]

Methods and Tools Used

Gore uses a lattice system of employee self-management, in which the workplace functions like a large self-directed team. Here, all workers are known as ‘associates’; there are no narrowly defined job titles; and the CEO is elected. All associates are part-owners via an employee stock ownership plan.[16] 

What Went on: Process, Interaction, and Participation 

Core to the lattice method is direct person-to-person communication without intermediaries; no fixed authority; mentors (called “sponsors”), not bosses; leadership based on willingness of others to follow; objectives set by those who implement them; tasks and functions organized through commitments.[17] Associates step forward to lead when they have the expertise to do so; a practice referred to as “knowledge-based decision-making”.[18] Emergent teams develop, thrive, and eventually dissolve as they accomplish the required work.[19] Each new associate is assigned a sponsor committed to their development and success, and who helps find a fit between the associate and the needs of a particular team. Roles are negotiated within teams. Performance evaluation is done by workers ranking and monitoring each other: people who know what they have done and how they have interacted with others. Salaries are therefore determined in accordance with the perceived contribution of each individual employee.[20] 

The company has introduced some structure as it has grown: the CEO, four major divisions, product-focused business units, and business support functions, each with a leader. But self-managed teams are the basic building blocks, and there are no management layers.[21] 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Although the lattice method takes time to develop, it leads to commitment, morale and brings together diverse perspectives and talents.[22] As stated by Benko et al., it “is more adaptive, and therefore better suited to align with the changing needs, norms, and expectations of today’s workplace.”[23] Gore has succeeded: the company is regularly ranked among the best companies to work for in the U.S.A.[24] It is a leading global brand in breathable fabric membranes, and has diversified its product range largely thanks to employee-driven innovations, with successful products in four major areas: electronic, medical equipment, fabrics, and industrial products.[25] The company has made a profit in every year of its existence.[26]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Both the founders themselves and management scholarship have argued that the Gore model would not necessarily work for all firms, and may be easier to implement in start-ups than already established hierarchical firms.[27],[28] The company’s values and culture are core to the model, which takes a long-term approach rather than maximising short-term efficiency; without this foundation, the model would be hard to emulate.[29] Similarly, the company believes that not all workers would thrive under this system and only hires a small percentage of all applicants.[30] 

See Also 

Lattice Organization 

Reference

[1] Bainbridge, Stepehn M. “Privately Ordered Participatory Management: An Organizational Failures Analysis.” Del. J. Corp. L., vol. 23, 1998, p. 979.

[2] Naranjo‐Valencia, Julia C., et al. “Innovation or Imitation? The Role of Organizational Culture.” Management Decision, Nov. 2012. World, www.emeraldinsight.com, doi:10.1108/00251741111094437.

[3] Benko, Cathleen, and Molly Anderson. “The Corporate Lattice.” The Talent Paradox: A 21st Century Talent and Leadership Agenda, 2011, p. 64.

[4] Hamel, GARY, and B. Breen. “Building an Innovation Democracy: WL Gore.” The Future of Management, 2007.

[5] W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. “The Gore Story.” Gore, 2019, /about/the-gore-story

[6] GORE-TEX. “Careers.” GORE-TEX Brand, 2019, https://www.gore.co.uk/careers.

[7] W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. “The Gore Story.” Gore, 2019, /about/the-gore-story.

[8] Grønning, T. (2016). Working Without a Boss: Lattice Organization With Direct Person-to-Person Communication at W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc. SAGE Business Cases. pg 2-4. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303803687_Working_Without_a_Boss_Lattice_Organization_With_Direct_Person-to-Person_Communication_at_W_L_Gore_Associates_Inc

[9] Manz, Charles C., et al. “Everyone a Team Leader: Shared Influence at W. L. Gore & Associates.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 38, no. 3, July 2009, pp. 239–44. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2009.04.006.

[10] Grønning, T. (2016), pg. 2. 

[11] Manz, Charles C., et al. “Everyone a Team Leader: Shared Influence at W. L. Gore & Associates.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 38, no. 3, July 2009, pp. 239–44. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2009.04.006.

[12] Bainbridge, Stepehn M. “Privately Ordered Participatory Management: An Organizational Failures Analysis.” Del. J. Corp. L., vol. 23, 1998, p. 979.

[13] Shipper, Frank, and Charles C. Manz. “Employee Self-Management without Formally Designated Teams: An Alternative Road to Empowerment.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 20, no. 3, 1992, pp. 52.

[14] Shipper, Frank, and Charles C. Manz. “Employee Self-Management without Formally Designated Teams: An Alternative Road to Empowerment.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 20, no. 3, 1992, pp. 48–61.

[15] Hamel, GARY, and B. Breen. “Building an Innovation Democracy: WL Gore.” The Future of Management, 2007.

[16] Hamel, GARY, and B. Breen. “Building an Innovation Democracy: WL Gore.” The Future of Management, 2007.

[17] Hamel, GARY, and B. Breen. “Building an Innovation Democracy: WL Gore.” The Future of Management, 2007.

[18] Manz, Charles C., et al. “Everyone a Team Leader: Shared Influence at W. L. Gore & Associates.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 38, no. 3, July 2009, pp. 239–44. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2009.04.006.

[19] Shipper, Frank, and Charles C. Manz. “Employee Self-Management without Formally Designated Teams: An Alternative Road to Empowerment.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 20, no. 3, 1992, pp. 48–61.

[20] Hamel, GARY, and B. Breen. “Building an Innovation Democracy: WL Gore.” The Future of Management, 2007.

[21] Hamel, GARY, and B. Breen. “Building an Innovation Democracy: WL Gore.” The Future of Management, 2007.

[22] Hamel, GARY, and B. Breen. “Building an Innovation Democracy: WL Gore.” The Future of Management, 2007.

[23] Benko, Cathleen, et al. “The Corporate Lattice: A Strategic Response to the Changing World of Work.” The Deloitte Review, no. 8, 2011, pp. 91–107.

[24] Fortune. “The 100 Best Companies to Work For.” Fortune, http://fortune.com/best-companies/2017/w-l-gore-associates/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.

[25] Shipper, Frank, and Charles C. Manz. “Employee Self-Management without Formally Designated Teams: An Alternative Road to Empowerment.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 20, no. 3, 1992, pp. 48–61.

[26] Hamel, GARY, and B. Breen. “Building an Innovation Democracy: WL Gore.” The Future of Management, 2007.

[27] Shipper, Frank, and Charles C. Manz. “Employee Self-Management without Formally Designated Teams: An Alternative Road to Empowerment.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 20, no. 3, 1992, pp. 48–61.

[28] Bainbridge, Stepehn M. “Privately Ordered Participatory Management: An Organizational Failures Analysis.” Del. J. Corp. L., vol. 23, 1998, p. 979.

[29] Hamel, Gary. “Innovation Democracy: W.L. Gore’s Original Management Model.” Management Innovation EXchange, 2010, https://www.managementexchange.com/story/innovation-democracy-wl-gores-original-management-model.

[30] Manz, Charles C., et al. “Everyone a Team Leader: Shared Influence at W. L. Gore & Associates.” Organizational Dynamics, vol. 38, no. 3, July 2009, pp. 239–44. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2009.04.006.

External Links

W.L. Gore: https://www.gore.com/

Forbes, ‘The Lattice That Has Replaced the Corporate Ladder’: https://www.forbes.com/2011/03/16/corporate-lattice-ladder-leadership-managing-hierarchy.html#53a80b873228 

Notes

Lead image: Great Place to Work Institute, https://goo.gl/AEKXR8

The first submission of this Participedia entry was adapted from a research project by the Institute of Development Studies, 'Linking Participation and Economic Advancement’ licensed and reproduced under Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0).

Original source: https://www.eldis.org/keyissues/mapping-participation-economic-advancement