Case | HBS Case Collection | August 2014 (Revised May 2015)

Teaming at Disney Animation

by Amy C. Edmondson, David L. Ager, Emily Harburg and Natalie Bartlett

Abstract

Jonathan Geibel, Director of Systems at Walt Disney Animation Studios (hereafter referred to as Disney Animation), walked through the workspace occupied by the group he had been tasked to lead. Geibel knew he was part of a creative and magical environment. The Disney studio had created more than 53 feature animated films in over three-quarters of a century—beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937 through to Frozen, released in November of 2013 and awarded the Oscar® for Best Animated Feature in March 2014, the first Academy Award® in that category for Walt Disney Animation Studios. In late March 2014, Frozen became the highest-grossing animated feature, worldwide, of all time. There was a period in the history of the 90 year-old studio, not so many years ago (and prior to John Lasseter and Ed Catmull's leadership), when Walt Disney Animation Studios had become more structured and hierarchical, and it wasn't always easy to work across departments to innovate. Yet the work, which involved both high-tech computer animation and creative storytelling, was more cross-disciplinary and dynamic than ever. Geibel wondered what he and Ron Johnson, whom he hired and teamed up with to re-envision the Systems group within Disney Animation, could do to improve the flow and the efficiency of the organization's increasingly technical and creative work. Geibel and Johnson had already made dramatic changes in the work structure and in the physical space to promote the effective teamwork that was so essential to producing compelling, engaging animated films. Now it was time to figure out how well the changes were working, and what further changes, if any, were necessary.

Keywords: Leading Change; Creativity; Organizational Structure; Animation Entertainment; Organizational Culture; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; United States;

Citation:

Edmondson, Amy C., David L. Ager, Emily Harburg, and Natalie Bartlett. "Teaming at Disney Animation." Harvard Business School Case 615-023, August 2014. (Revised May 2015.)