Positive Tension. Just like there are two poles on a battery, you need both charges to make energy. The same is true on a project team. The participants of a project have sometimes fundamental different objectives, although sharing the same goal. It takes a very diverse team of professionals to deliver the type of complex experiences we create in the themed entertainment industry. For example, the creative team members are focused on innovation, dreaming up the impossible, and are focused on taking risks to deliver something that has not been done before.
The project delivery team members, on the other hand, share the same overall goal of delivering a unique experience for guests, and approach it with a different set of criteria: they are fundamentally risk-averse, cost-conscious, and schedule-driven. Much of their success is measured through strict adherence to processes. Although many other subject matter experts participate in a project, these two categories are the most obvious examples.
Architecture and engineering as another example, work within the laws of nature. They contend with natural forces such as gravity and inertia. Also, these professionals have to be licensed. Because of this, their focus is on “the possible”. Put all of these groups together in a dynamic, constantly changing, high pressure, high investment project environment, and you have a recipe for tension. It is up to the project leadership to keep that tension “positive”. When the tension is positive, there is mutual respect, shared objectives, and an environment that balances all of the competing focuses.
On a healthy project team with this type of balance, the creative team members will work within a set of design criteria that considers schedule, budget, and build-ability. These criteria would not be seen as restrictive, but rather as guidelines to motivate successful design. The project delivery team members would accept boundaries set by the team, that allow risk-taking and innovation. These would not be viewed as reckless or wasteful, rather, exploring innovation and experience. Finally, the architecture and engineering team members would seek to elevate their science to the level of art in exploring unconventional solutions.
Achieving positive tension requires commitment from the whole team. It’s encouraging each member to leverage what they know to stretch beyond, explore the new, and deliver the best work of their careers. In this type of environment of high pressure, there is no such thing as a “perfect team”, only the perfect effort.
Perhaps the best example of this is seen in “Pandora: The World of Avatar” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The engineering required to create the “floating mountains” is truly a work of art; an unconventional approach. Forming steel into curves that would look like vines was a true genius. Then, making the artificial foliage from stainless steel mesh so that it requires little maintenance was also breakthrough thinking. It took the whole team working together to deliver a dimensional experience that would authentically replicate what we all enjoyed on film.