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Managing Tensions at W.L. Gore

I had the great pleasure of participating in the MixMashup event in San Francisco this past week. The first in-person event that the MIX has put together. I could be writing about the learning from that event for the next several months.

Terri Kelly, the President & CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates Inc. was the first to speak and proceeded to drop knowledge bombs at will. To hear her speak about her 29 years at Gore and what they've learned about managing a dynamic, high performance work environment was a gift.

Gore is an amazing business story, founded in 1958 by Bill Gore it has close to 10,000 employees across 30 countries with revenues exceeding 3 billion. They are the subject of countless case studies and article on leading-edge management principles and are the recipients of a string of "Best Places to Work" awards.

Bill Gore founded the company after being involved in a skunkworks team at DuPont. His goal was to build an entire company with the same level of energy and engagement that existed in the skunkworks. I think it's clear he succeeded.

"Since 1958, Gore has been a team-based, flat lattice organization that fosters personal initiative. There are no traditional organizational charts, no chains of command, nor predetermined channels of communication."

Managing through influence rather than authority takes a lot of diligence and effort to get right. There are many tensions that exist in a business, and in their model where there is so much freedom and autonomy, they are very careful to not only identify the tensions but ensure they are understood by everyone. As Terri Kelly said,

"To make a dynamic environment work, like we have at Gore, you need discipline."

Discipline is required to build an awareness of the entire business to ensure the appropriate context for decisions and action. And each person needs to understand the tensions that exist so they can balance them appropriately:

 

  • Innovation and Efficiency
  • Freedom/Autonomy and Responsibility
  • Principles and Actions
  • Consensus and Execution
  • Discipline and Bureaucracy
  • Freedom and Discipline

 

As Terri says, "It is incredibly powerful when you get the balance of freedom and discipline right. We focus on managing this tension and communicating about it every day."

 

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