How Ford communicators, IT collaborated on a SharePoint site

IT and comms have different goals and approaches when building a site. But that doesn’t mean they can’t both end up happy with the result.

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Perhaps you’ve had the experience of working with a difficult person in IT. You may also have a few cranky sorts in your own department.

You know what happens when you get the wrong people in a room—personality conflicts, a clash between process-oriented IT and touchy-feely comms types.

But the two sides at Ford Motor Company worked out their differences in designing a SharePoint site-resulting in “surprise and delight from the IT team,” says Sara Tatchio, manager of global integrated communications.

Along the way, Tatchio and Kate Blizinski, managing editor of @FordOnline, accumulated wisdom both in managing a SharePoint transition and in resolving conflict among departments.

“It’s all about teamwork,” Blizinski says. “And a lot of times when I say what I want, [IT staffers] now come back with things that are lot better.”

The two sides didn’t always play well together. Initially, discussions were hindered by personality conflicts and different approaches.

“What should have been hearts and flowers: sometimes we needed a few referees,” Tatchio says.

Here are a few lessons they learned:

1. Listen to critics.

An early version of the SharePoint site @FordOnline launched in 2008, and employees were surprised by the big change, Tatchio says. Besides, the design was inflexible. It was too heavy on news, without enough focus on productivity. It wasn’t global enough: There were boxes devoted to different geographic areas, but you had to scroll down to see them.

“It was very North America-centric,” Tatchio says. “Nobody around the world was seeing themselves. They hated that.”

Tatchio received 400 emails in a couple weeks, all of which any sensible communicator would delete, right? Actually, she replied to every individual. When the time came to create a new design, the input proved invaluable.

2. Schedule together.

One reason they’re getting along at Ford is both sides understand each other’s timelines and the forces (i. e., bigwigs’ demands) that are driving the schedule on both sides.

Blizinski says it’s essential to sit down together and commit to a mutual timeline. She tells the IT folks, for example, “By this date we need this.”

They point out potential problems from their end. And Blizinski tells them, “I’ll work day and night if I have to.”

3. Offer praise.

To overcome any conflicts, Tatchio came up with some ideas for working together. Among them:

  • Take out the emotion.
  • Let go of what you can’t change (like the platform)
  • Distance team members who don’t get along
  • Assign clear roles and responsibilities
  • Have a drink together
  • Recognize successes

The last point was a key one. Tatchio sent many emails to people and their bosses praising an individual’s work. “That went so far in building relationships,” she says.

4. Be clear about your needs.

IT is good about meeting needs, but you must be precise.

“You have to be able to think of every possible little thing you want,” Blizinski says. “Not just the big things.”

5. Get input.

With the new design of @FordOnline, designers incorporated the criticisms from around the world. Ford buttons at the top for various its regions: Europe; North America; South America; and Asia, Pacific and Africa. There’s a world clock displaying times from cities such as Dearborn, Shanghai and Cologne, Germany.

When the design was finalized, Ford went to the masses and said, “Please give us your input,” Blizinski says.

“This was one of the scariest moments in my career, putting this up,” she says. “We had pretty much committed to this layout. … We could tweak it, but to overhaul it would’ve been really difficult.”

Luckily, people liked it.

The site features news about both Ford and competitors, and there are key links along the top left, including a calendar. Articles can be tagged by subject and theme. There’s a place where people can submit stories.

Designers added a highly visible box on the right where communicators can place fun information. On Pi Day Blizinski placed an equation there and said that those who solved it would enter a drawing for a T-shirt. Over 3,000 employees answered.

The results of all that work together? The site is more global, feels more modern, and is more intuitive and flexible. And the number of page views has more than tripled.

@r_working

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