When we are talking about animated movies – and not just any animated movies, but the best animated movies made by anyone, anywhere – what is the first studio to come to mind?
Of course, it’s Pixar.
If you have spent any time watching animated films, you’ve probably got a favorite Pixar movie. They have certainly established themselves as a powerhouse in the entertainment industry.
Popular review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reflects that, on average, nearly 90% of those who watch Pixar films walk away having enjoyed themselves. The studio has also earned an Academy Award, the highest honor in American cinema, 23 times since its first release in 1995. This is not to mention its average gross income of more than $500 million per film.
To what does Pixar attribute their incredible success? Some say it’s their innovative approach to filmmaking. Others credit their commitment to technical and artistic quality. And both assessments have their value. But one quality that often goes unrecognized is their relationship with conflict.
Conflict is like fire. In the right context with the proper handling, fire gives much-needed warmth and light. Candles create a charming atmosphere. On a cold night, sitting by the fire keeps us cozy. Without fire humankind would never have made it out of the paleolithic age. But I’m sure you know it doesn’t take much for fire to get out of control. Without care, it has the potential for untold destruction.
So it is with conflict. Conflict is a natural occurrence wherever there are people, and we can allow it to foster our success or become our downfall.
To leverage conflict for better results, Pixar provides it proper context and handling in the form of “Braintrust” meetings. Every few months, key personnel gather to discuss the status and hurdles of every film the company is working on.
Tell me that isn’t the setup for some heated discussions!
How would these meetings go in your organization? Would there be harsh words? Hurt feelings? Or would things be completely silent, because your people are afraid to speak? For many leaders, it is difficult to imagine a meeting like this going any other way.
But Pixar has created a strong and trusting culture among their creative staff. Everyone attending Braintrust meetings is encouraged to be honest and knows to expect honesty from others. The foundation of every discussion is the understanding that input is meant to improve the project, not tear down the person responsible for it. The result is an exchange where everyone feels safe enough to participate and the project is ultimately better for it.
If that sounds like something your organization has been missing, try these strategies for improving your team’s relationship with conflict:
1. Encourage open communication. Provide channels for people to regularly offer their opinions and concerns. Consider implementing Braintrust meetings of your own!
2. Create a safe environment. Don’t just tell, but show your team members that they are free to share their genuine thoughts without concern of punishment.
3. Contribute constructive feedback. Lead by example – give your people helpful, objective feedback related to their processes and results, not their personalities.
4. Provide conflict resolution training. Invest in practical training and resources that your employees can utilize same-day to relate to and empathize with their colleagues.
5. Set clear expectations and goals. The vast majority of conflict is caused by misunderstanding. Eliminate the possibility of miscommunication by clearly articulating job descriptions, expectations of results, and standard operating procedures.
If there is one thing we can see from Pixar’s films, it is that their team has mastered the art of conflict. They know that when it is healthy, it moves things forward on the silver screen and behind the scenes. And if we are able to learn from their method, we may be able to enjoy a shade of their success.
That’s all for now. 😉
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