The Importance of Team Morale in Animation
Team morale is a big deal and can make or break a production. It was something I learned very early on when I started working on TV series in 2005. I remember one of the studios I worked at would take us all out to lunch/dinner at the end of every episode submitted. It was team bonding time and you really got to know each other, so when it came to crunch time and we had to work extra hours to get the job done, well that's what we did. It felt like we were all in it together and the supervisors led by example since they were there too, doing as much work as they could. It was a job but I felt like I was a part of something and I actually cared about the people and getting the episode and my own shots done the best I could. Not that I advise working extra hours unpaid though, but realistically, these things do happen from time to time.
Anyway, here are some of my thoughts and experience on what helps and what destroyed team morale in projects I've been on:
I like feeling that I am a part of a team and not just a name on the list. I feel more invested in a project when I know I can genuinely talk to the higher ups and the team. If I feel like I am just being check up on, instead of being treated as an individual, I have a tendency to check out. Always easier to be done in person, but it can work online.
- People are not machines.
I prefer studios that treat me like I am an adult that can manage my time to get the job done and I prefer to treat people like that as well. Seriously though, if work hasn't been submitted in like 3 days maximum, then something has gone wrong and it's not that hard to let the person know. I remember having to house hunt during one of my jobs and I am so grateful that they let me go in an out of the studio, provided that I made quota of course.
- Flexibility is a friend, not an enemy.
I totally get that but it doesn't mean you can't have fun while working. People need to de-stress during the day and an hour of lunch is not enough to connect with people sometimes. I've been in studios where it was dead quiet since interacting with each other was not encouraged during working hours. It was like working in a morgue. Some people might like that but I prefer places with more life. Fair enough though if it's the day or the day before the episode is due, I would expect everyone to really push for it but if we just finished submitting and it's another 2 weeks before the ep is due, a bit of relax time while working shouldn't be an issue I think.
- Time is money.
Again, this is a lot easier to do when you're in-house like pub lunches and drinks on Fridays (when it's not a deadline day but definitely drinks after making deadline). I had one production where one day a week where we would do a thematic dress up day and anyone can join in at any time. That was a lot of fun. Online, people created GIFs, had drawing slacks and just chatting casually as a team does help build that camaraderie and boost morale. If the production is all online, trying to organize meetups where a majority of the crew is located, would help too as well as online events so everyone can join.
- Activities where anyone can join in but are not pressured or obligated to participate in.
If the team is behind and the reason isn't super obvious (like delays from other departments), then ask. See if a solution can be found. Blaming the team and forcing them to make unrealistic goals will do nothing but delay an episode more. Being honest with the team on why everything has gone to Hell has been more beneficial than otherwise, I think.
Animators like feedback. If they're doing a good job and how they're doing. Passive aggressive gestures will do nothing for the production.
- Tell people how they're doing.
It does not improve productivity and only builds resentment. There is a real difference on keeping track of people and their progress (which is necessary) versus asking impersonal questions and not really taking different circumstances into account.
- Micromanaging helps no one.
If you're reading this and feel like some of the points were implemented at a studio you've worked at and you enjoyed or thought it was a good thing, let me know. I would love to hear why. If you also feel like I've missed something, I would like to know too!
Do you have any suggestions or feedback on improving team morale? Is there anything you would like to or have done yourself? It would be awesome to hear about it!