Pixar, the company that gave us the Toy Story blockbusters as well as The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc. and the current mega-hit Brave, is one of the most successful movie studios of all time. Much of its unprecedented string of critical and box-office hits is due to its incredible level of teamwork. The priority is always to produce the best possible end result, no matter whose toes get stepped on.
Toy Story 2, for example, was more than three years into production and was virtually completed when all the work was thrown out and the studio started from scratch. The movie went on to become one of its most acclaimed and successful movies.
So–how did Pixar create a culture that boasts an incredible level of teamwork in an industry that’s noted for huge combative creative egos?
Many at the company give the credit to Steve Jobs, who funded the company in the early years and eventually assumed ownership. Jobs personally supervised the design of the company’s office building in 2000, and originally, employees thought Jobs had ended up wasting a huge amount of space by insisting that a large atrium anchor the interior central area of the building. And he insisted that atrium area contain the meeting rooms, the cafeteria and, most critically, the bathrooms.
In other words, at some point in the workday, everyone at Pixar would have to pass through the atrium. Brad Bird, then one of Pixar’s top directors, said that Jobs “realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.”
In an age where all of us are communicating more and more through electronic devices instead of actual conversation, teamwork suffers. As Jobs said, “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
Jobs strategically harnessed the power of high interaction in this new high tech enterprise. He may have come to this conclusion based on instinct, but science has recently backed it up. At MIT’s Human Dynamics laboratory, they identified the group dynamics that high-performing teams share. They include:
* Everyone on the team both talks and listens. No one dominates the conversation.
* The interactions are energetic with a lot of face-to-face communication.
* People connect with one another directly – not just with or through the team leader.
* Side conversations are carried on within the team.
* People from time to time go outside the group and bring relevant outside information back in.
* Individual contributions/talents are less important than successful communication patterns
The primary MIT finding, however, backs Jobs up completely; the most valuable form of communication is face-to-face. Conference calls and videoconferencing are the next most effective, but lose value as more participants are included.
Optimizing teamwork shouldn’t be just an internal priority for a company. Bonds must be created both with clients and vendors to achieve true strategic objectives; otherwise, distrust and negativity can disrupt relationships. Those bonds can’t be created through email and phone texts (the least effective team communication methods, according to MIT). They come about through in-person human interaction–you know, what we used to do before they invented phones and computers.
When you type less and talk more to colleagues, you empower real teamwork to take place. And that can take your enterprise, as our old friend Buzz Lightyear used to say, “To infinity and beyond!”
[Image: Flickr user Carl Parkes]