Transforming workplace culture – Ford IT


“We realised that a robust operational strategy cannot make up for a disengaged or disharmonious workplace culture,” says Ford's Director of Global Manufacturing IT: Rekha Wunnava. Read on to see how Ford IT used workplace culture to achieve outstanding results.

Transforming workplace culture - Ford IT

The challenge

“Freedom of movement drives human progress.” This core belief has guided the Ford Motor Company since its founding in 1903. Today, Ford finds itself at a growth point.

“The industry is seeing the rapid maturation of new technologies and, as a result, witnessing an evolution towards mobility,” notes Rekha Wunnava, Director of Global Manufacturing IT.

At Ford, Wunnava oversees a team of over 1,100 technologists working in more than 80 facilities worldwide. 1903 this is not. In a climate of hyper-accelerating technological change, how does Ford sustain vertical and horizontal organizational integration across workplaces worldwide?

The answer came in the form of a crucial observation. “We realized that a robust operational strategy cannot make up for a disengaged or disharmonious workplace culture,” says Wunnava

Culture innovation at Ford IT

In dismantling stagnancy in workplace culture, our Global partner [Culture Partners] joined with Ford IT  to examine the underlying cultural beliefs keeping their outmoded operational systems in place. “In the past, we had a reliable sequence of gathering requirements, performing analysis, and then designing solutions in response—a  process that could take between six months and two years,” says Wunnava. This fixed system restricted flexibility and adaptability, two cultural values that Ford IT identified as keys to future sustainability.

Flexibility and adaptability could only be achieved with shifts in culture. Ford IT technologists reoriented with new priorities: trust and transparency among teams, acknowledgment and accountability, and a respect of knowledge over hierarchy.

By focusing on culture, Ford IT also reassessed and radically shifted its identity within the larger company structure. “IT has historically occupied the position of a service provider,” says Wunnava. “However, we recognized that reframing our identity in relation to our business counterparts as a partner, rather than a service provider, could serve as a crucial element in remaining agile and meeting the needs of our customers.”

During an intensive process, Ford IT developed five core beliefs to steer their new workplace culture:

Solve the problem.

Ford IT dissolves silos by encouraging creative problem solving across role and team boundaries, fostering collaboration in order to achieve winning outcomes.

Express yourself.

We urge all employees to balance active listening and honest expression, creating a team dynamic that values every member’s voice equally.

Build trust.

Ford IT sees trust as a critical foundation for strong solutions-driven relationships in the workplace. Our employees maintain faith in each other.

Shape our future.

In our workplaces, we leave room for both anticipated and unanticipated change. We empower all employees to shape the organization’s future together.

Respect knowledge over hierarchy.

Ford IT incentivizes egalitarianism by elevating expertise and insight—regardless of which employee offers it—over official titles or rankings.

Rethinking both its restrictive operational systems and the cultural beliefs keeping them in place allowed Ford IT to transform, increasing its ability to flex, adapt, and deliver higher-quality results at the speed required by an ever-changing technological landscape.

We have been able to make this a truly global movement. Ford’s culture transformation has positioned us to deliver faster, better solutions in every marketplace and maximize our achievement in the automotive world.”

The beauty of the two-pizza team

A culture microstudy at Ford IT

Cultural transformation creates change at the product management level, too. Prior to our work together, Ford IT utilized a “waterfall” approach to project management. Leaders with compartmentalized duties oversaw different aspects of a project before letting it “fall” to another developer, tester, business analysts, project manager, or other player. “This process ultimately restrained bandwidth at Ford IT,” says Wunnava. “With so many different team members responsible for specific components of the project, employees were unable to take collective accountability for the overall status of a project.”

After honing in on the importance of trust and transparency in shared responsibility, Ford IT redesigned team configuration. Now, they organize by product instead of project. Rather than handing off a project to another individual, technologists work within “two-pizza teams”—groups small enough that two pizzas can feed them.

Why does this matter?

The “two-pizza team” strategy creates nodes of trust where responsibility and accountability are actively communicated. When one member of the team tackles a task, they have a clearly articulated status of the product and can take action quickly on what’s required.

Ford IT team members also began to refocus on external communications, forging trust by establishing a point of view with business partners in order to create alignment around desired solutions and quantify returns on investments.

Culture innovation & the result: global cohesion

The consciousness of culture has become key–affecting change within the company at large, as well. Ford has delegated “Cultural Champions.” Champions embody Ford’s cultural beliefs and promote greater accountability and engagement. Ford also recruits “Cultural Ambassadors,” volunteer senior leaders who are well-versed in and passionate about the process.

“From an IT perspective,” notes Rekha Wunnava, “we do not treat our offices outside of the U.S. as regional or otherwise auxiliary. Each one is integrated into the global product or service line, and, as such, plays an important role in creating a flourishing culture.”

Shifting how Ford IT works together, interacts, and solves problems at the human level has launched a global evolution. 1903 it is not, but Henry Ford would have approved. He said: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

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