Working Without a Boss: Lattice Organization With Direct Person-to-Person Communication at W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.

Working Without a Boss: Lattice Organization With Direct Person-to-Person Communication at W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.

  • Case
  • Teaching Notes
Abstract

W. L. Gore & Associates, established in 1958, is renowned for several innovative products such as the “waterproof while breathing” textile material Gore-Tex, but it is also known for its remarkable “lattice” organizational structure. Borrowing the lattice concept from architecture and crafts, where it refers to intertwined materials, the company operates as a system of intertwined associates in which no one is anyone's boss. The various activities within the company have leaders who are selected based on their merits and abilities to attract followers. As a company with more than 10,000 employees, Gore does have the equivalent of a chief executive officer who may be contacted by partners and others outside the company, but in recent history, even this person has been selected from among the company's associates. The practices of this flat lattice organization structure, such as direct communication channels and absence of formal bosses, exist throughout the company when it comes to running the business. The case demonstrates that a lattice-type organization may be a tremendous asset, since it encourages communication and innovation, but it may also create challenging complications as it seeks to respond to changes in the company's environment and secure channels of accountability to deal with controversies within the company.

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