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In a café in the center of Palo Alto we had the great opportunity to meet Linda Elkins, who spent a long time with Gore and is currently building up the new innovation center in the Silicon Valley.

Gore, founded in 1958 by Bill Gore, has grown into a highly innovative, global company with more than 10,000 employees (they call themselves „associates“) in 30 countries and a turnover of US$ 3 billion. Based on the versatile material PTFE and their extraordinary innovativeness Gore developed 3 main businesses-areas: medical implants, fabric laminates (known as GORE-TEX®) and several further specific applications for all kinds of industries.

What makes this company so special?

Gore’s basic organizational structure is flat – anyone can discuss any issue with anyone, including the CEO. They call it a „lattice-organization“ – a horizontal network of peers. Instead of hierarchical „bosses“, they have leaders and sponsors, who do not have a fixed or assigned authority. Leadership is based on a gravitational logic: Those who have the skill, capability and followership function as leaders. Sponsors track the development of up to 5 people.

There are no fixed job-descriptions, but people commit themselves to tasks/functions, mostly one main task and sometimes a secondary commitment to another one. These commitments are flexible and vary according to necessity and personal ambition. The cooperation is organized via teams of 7-8 people, teams cooperate among each other in clusters (e.g. regional). In order to keep the complexity of units low, there is a limit of 150-250 people per location. If a location grows beyond this number, it will be split.Personal engagement and development are based on strong commitments and objectives established by consensus

Gore’s organization is based on high autonomy and self-responsibility. Personal autonomy is regulated by only four strong principles:

  • Freedom: We encourage each other to grow in knowledge, skill, scope of responsibility and range of activities. We believe that associates will exceed expectations when given the freedom to do so.
  • Fairness: Everyone at Gore sincerely tries to be fair with each other, our suppliers, our customers and anyone else with whom we do business.
  • Commitment: We are not assigned tasks; rather, we each make our own commitments and keep them.
  • Waterline: Everyone at Gore consults with other knowledgeable associates before taking actions that might be "below the waterline,” causing serious damage to the enterprise. (source: https://www.gore.com/about/our-beliefs-and-principles)

Anyway the organization is pretty performance-oriented, but performance-metrics are set by the teams themselves at the beginning of their task. Monitoring happens (among other measures) by team members ranking each other according to contribution - a similar process runs among the teams.

The Innovation-center in Palo Alto

The center is being set-up at the moment by Linda with the basic idea of fostering innovation by «going more outside» and building stronger external relations. Silicon Valley with its start-ups, universities and venture capitalists is of course an ideal environment for that. Linda is aware that this «open innovation approach» will require some different ways of working, for example in decision making which is one of the few weak points of the organization – and Silicon Valley with its inherent speed might quite challenge them…

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