Lattice Organization

March 11, 2019 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
February 27, 2019 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby

An decentralized management system where workers are largely self-directed, able to move laterally through the organization to gain knowledge and experience in various roles.

Problems and Purpose

Traditional business management models use a hierarchy or 'ladder': people at the top make the most important decisions, while people at the bottom have the least responsibilities. The lattice structure of organization management was created in opposition to the traditional ladder model. Workers are largely self-directed and are included - to a greater or lesser extent - in major business decisions and project development.[1] 

The word ‘lattice’ describes “a three-dimensional structure that extends infinitely in any direction…[and] are evident everywhere from a garden’s wooden trellis to the metalwork of the Eiffel tower.”[2] Thus, it is an apt way to describe a method that produces no hierarchy, free information flow, and collective decision-making.

Origins and Development

The lattice model is largely attributed to Bill Gore, founder of W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. When establishing his company in the 1950s, Gore opted for a decentralized model to ensure every individual in the organization was connected to each other. He termed it a 'lattice' to emphasize the focus on interconnection.[3]

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Lattice structures are generally kept small to build a close knit and interpersonal atmosphere. For example, at W.L. Gore and Associates, individual factories are prohibited from exceeding 200 employees.[4] Here, hiring is a very selective process, with not all individuals able to handle the company’s distinct approach.[5]

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

The lattice model was developed to increase connections between workers. In traditional organizations, these connections exist as an informal network of relationships underlying the formal hierarchy. In the lattice model, there are no (or, at least, fewer) layers of management, allowing information to flow freely in all directions and normalizing personal communication. Individuals and self-managed teams in the lattice are free to interact directly with anyone in the organization to get what they needed to be successful.[6] Core to the lattice method is: 

1) Direct person-to-person communication without intermediaries, enabling all employees to work with each other. This characteristic encourages more collaboration, something which has proven to be increasingly useful in today’s workplace environments in which non-routine, dispersed, virtual, and project-based work is common.[7]

2) No fixed authority or boss. This characteristic is meant to encourage every member of a lattice organization use their own leadership skills in constantly changing teams.[8] Here. “everyone can – and indeed, is expected to – contribute.”[9]

3) Teams and the objectives that guide them are self-made. This characteristic allows lattice organizations to be more adaptive “as specific needs arise.” [10] 

According to Lisa Magloff at the Houston Chronicle, the lattice organization model consists of three "lattice ways":

1. Careers that can be organized to suit the needs of individual workers

2. Flexible work scheduling that allows workers to achieve a work-life balance by taking on more or less responsibility

3. Full participation – providing ways for workers to contribute ideas and suggestions in every area of the company.[11]

W.L. Gore & Associates Inc. offers a case example of the lattice model in practice: while it has incorporated some structure as its grown and developed, the company largely retained an emphasis on worker connection, self-organization, and decentralized management.[12]

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Although the lattice method takes time, it can lead to increased levels of commitment, morale and also bring together diverse perspectives and talents. W.L. Gore and Associates, for instance, has succeeded: the company is regularly ranked among the “best companies to work for” in the U.S.A. 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 areas including musical equipment (guitar strings), dental hygiene (floss), and medical equipment. Since the company’s creation and its usage of the lattice method, it has always made a profit.[13] 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Contrary to some critiques, the lattice method responds well to crisis as “a lot of useless effort is avoided because there is no rigid management hierarchy to conquer before you can attack a problem.”[14]

Both the founders themselves and management scholarship have argued that the lattice method would not necessarily work for all firms, and may be easier to implement in start-ups than already established hierarchical firms.[15] An organization’s values and culture are core to the model, which takes a long-term approach rather than one which is focused on maximizing short-term efficiency; without this foundation, the method would be hard to emulate. Finally, the uniqueness of this method means that not all workers thrive under it, as shown through the rigorous recruitment strategy employed by W.L. Gore and Associates. Thus, in some ways this participatory method is exclusionary.[16]

With that being said, the lattice method has also led to a re-imagination of the ‘ideal’ workplace structure. Writing for Deloitte Insights, Cathy Benko, Molly Anderson, and Suzanne Vickberg question the old hierarchical ladder method of structuring organizations, observing that it “defines career success as a linear climb to the top. Ultimately, the ladder’s one-size-fits-all approach assumes employees are more alike than different, and want and need similar things to deliver results.”[17] The fact that this statement comes from an influential company such as Deloitte may lead other organizations to examine the applicability of the lattice method to their own workplace in the future.[18]

See Also

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


[1] Lisa Magloff, “How Does a Lattice Organization Work?,” Houston Chronicle, July 3, 2011,

[2] Cathy Benko, Molly Anderson, and Suzanne Vickberg, “The Corporate Lattice,” Deloitte Insights, January 1, 2011,

[3] Gary Hamel, “Innovation Democracy: W.L. Gore’s Original Management Model | Management Innovation EXchange,” Management Innovation Exchange, September 23, 2010,

[4] Manz, C. and Shipper, F. (1992). “Employee self-management without formally designated teams: An alternative to empowerment,” Organizational Dynamics 20 (3), 51. 

[5] Simon Caulkin, “Gore-Tex Gets Made without Managers,” The Guardian, November 2, 2008,

[6] Hamel, “Innovation Democracy."

[7] Benko, Anderson, and Vickberg, “The Corporate Lattice.”

[8] Manz and Shipper, “Employee Self-management,” 56. 

[9] Cathleen Benko and Molly Anderson, “The Lattice That Has Replaced The Corporate Ladder,” Forbes, March 16, 2011,

[10] Manz and Shipper, “Employee Self-management,” 54.

[11] Magloff, “How Does a Lattice Organization Work?"

[12] Hamel, “Innovation Democracy."

[13] Citation needed. 

[14] Manz and Shipper, “Employee Self-management,” 58.

[15] Citation needed. 

[16] Citation needed. 

[17] Benko, Anderson, and Vickberg, “The Corporate Lattice.”

[18] Citation needed.

External Links

Forbes, "The Lattice That Has Replaced The Corporate Ladder"


Lead image: Biff Tenon/Shutterstock,