Groups call the shots at W.L. Gore — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Groups call the shots at W.L. Gore

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To foster teamwork, give employees a voice. Let them work together to make decisions and they’ll collaborate more freely.

At W.L. Gore & Associates, a manufacturing firm based in Newark, Del., its workforce of more than 8,000 exercises an unusual level of authority. When the CEO retired in 2005, for example, employees selected a successor based on a companywide vote.

“We weren’t given a list of names,” recalls Terri Kelly, the 51-year-old Gore veteran who was voted by her peers as the new CEO. “We were free to choose anyone in the company; to my surprise, it was me.”

Managers do not assign projects to underlings at Gore. Instead, employees decide what to work on by conferring with each other. They wind up negotiating assignments and responsibilities with their peers.

To help sustain team cohesion, Gore’s manufacturing facilities are deliberately capped in size. Once they grow to about 200 people, the company opens a new plant.

Each facility has a mix of engineers, machinists, salespeople and others. Cross-functional teams enable individuals to lend their expertise to lift the group’s performance.

Peers hold each other accountable for follow-through. Kelly leaves the teams alone without imposing her own directives.

She’s also hesitant to insist on maximum efficiency. In fact, she’s willing to sacrifice some efficiency to bring teams closer together.

New hires at Gore often spend part of their first few months simply chatting with a range of employees. As a result, they form bonds that will strengthen over time. It’s not necessarily an efficient on-boarding process, but it cultivates more teamwork down the line.

— Adapted from The Future of Work, Jacob Morgan, John Wiley & Sons.

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