Whenever you start a project, the ultimate goal is to bring desirable results and success. However, not everything always goes as planned. Even with good planning and effective execution, there’s a possibility of encountering unforeseen things, obstacles, and challenges when tackling any project.
When struggling to problem solve, you need a small, agile team of experts to implement the best solutions. These teams are termed ‘tiger teams’ and are tasked with solving critical problems.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What a tiger team is
- When to put together a tiger team
- The tiger team approach
- Tiger team best practices
Let’s get started!
What Is a Tiger Team
A tiger team is a team of diversified specialists or experts brought together with the goal of solving a single complex issue. The term was coined by NASA managers in 1970, referring to small teams of specialists gathered to solve specific problems.
Perhaps the most well-known use of the tiger team was during the Apollo 13 emergency when an explosion threatened the lives and safety of Astronaut Jim Lovell and his crew. The blast vented the contents of the oxygen tanks to space, leaving the service module with no oxygen for breathing nor a way to generate electric power for propulsion.
The crew needed saving quickly, prompting NASA flight director Gene Krantz to assemble a team of experts with a single goal: To get the astronauts back to Earth alive.
This crew consisted of highly specialized engineers and were dubbed the “Tiger Team”. Four days later, they successfully managed to help the crew on the Apollo 13 manned lunar mission loop around the moon and get back home safely.
The term has since been used to refer to any group of specialists from different departments with diverse skills, who come together to implement solutions in a dire situation.
Who makes up a tiger team?
So, here’s the thing. As a leader, it’s impossible to anticipate every possible outcome of a project. Thus, you can’t always have a predetermined tiger team that you call on every time you face hardships unless it’s the military.
For that reason, you’ll need to handpick a very specific tiger team whenever an issue arises, depending on the type and nature of the issue. A tiger team that successfully resolves one issue is highly unlikely to solve the next issue.
For example, if your competitor beats you by providing better customer service, you’ll need people from customer service, sales, product design, and developers since they understand customer pains and product improvements better than anyone else. Conversely, when faced with a financial issue or high attrition rates, financial advisors (accountants, CFOs, and controllers) or HR managers, respectively, will be better suited to look into that matter.
In short, you’ll need different teams for different problems.
Basically, a tiger team will include a small, diverse team of experts (often senior-level) in their field. They could be from operations, business development, engineering, legal, finance, or sales and/or marketing.
These experts must have broader experience to reduce skills gaps and blind spots and increase agility.
You may be wondering why you can’t bring in team members with hyper-focused specialties. Not only will this lead to bloated headcounts, it will slow down the entire operation – and time is likely not on your side.
It’s best to restrict the number of participants in tiger teams. Most importantly, choose the best experts with a large spectrum of skills who can register a success rate of 100 percent.
In addition, assign a corporate sponsor to your tiger team to provide resources, funding, and additional personnel as needed to help run the project smoothly.
Crucially, the people in your tiger team should be allowed to focus solely on the issue at hand. There’s no room for them to get distracted if they are to complete their objectives optimally. This move will save time, money, and other resources.
Once the tiger team completes the assigned project, the group is disbanded, and each member returns to their normal roles.
What Are the Key Functions of a Tiger Team?
By now, you understand that a tiger team isn’t just any team. It’s a specialized group primarily created to brainstorm ideas and come up with viable solutions to the existing problem.
This team is tasked with framing the problem, identifying assumptions, collaborating, and thinking outside the box to develop creative solutions.
With that in mind, some of the key functions of tiger teams include:
- To offer strategic plans to stay ahead of the competition
- To manage technical deployments
- To bring to the table new ideas to solve old problems
- To share critical insights from multiple perspectives”
The Benefits of a Tiger Team
So, why build a tiger team?
Tiger teams are masters of disruption and could evolve your project in ways you hadn’t thought of. They are an effective tool, especially, when trying to get rid of potential problems halting your projects.
Some of the key benefits of tiger teams are:
- Access to a team of experts with a broad range of skills
- Diversity and multiple perspectives allow the group to approach the subject matter through different point of views
- Innovative and creative approach to problem-solving
- Improved communication and collaboration between departments
- Quick identification of problems and the fixes
- Ability to make hard decisions and act on them with precision
- Insightful decisions for your organization’s future development and growth
The Drawbacks of Tiger Teams
Don’t get us wrong. Tiger teams can be effective tools for those big problems that threaten to cripple your business. A well-assembled team can cut through red tape and quickly identify problems and find solutions.
The team has no other mission other than coming up with viable results, and will only be disbanded once the issues have been successfully resolved.
However, the tiger team approach can be disadvantageous:
- Participants will need to direct their attention to the issues at hand, thereby disrupting their normal operations. Since the problem is prioritized, they won’t have time to perform other duties, which might result in missed deadlines and backlogs.
- Tiger teams require additional resources and compensation, like overtime. These costs can add up.
- There’s an increased risk of siloing and poor collaboration, which can cripple the process and lead to inefficiencies.
When to Build a Tiger Team
A tiger team is like the military’s elite force; it’s not used for every situation – only in special circumstances. When to form a tiger team will require weighing the options and deciding whether it’s necessary.
For example, say you promised to restore service by a specific date, and time is running out. Rather than risk your company’s reputation and losing customers, you can resort to a specialized team of experts (aka “tiger team”) to get to work.
The point is, don’t wait until it’s too late to form a dedicated team to work on a major issue. Tiger teams can be used to test and improve processes outside normal business hours, such as improving operational efficiency or testing new applications.
They can also be formed to help a company transition smoothly to a remote work model, such as when Covid-19 hit. In such cases, these teams can prevent disruption of services and enable business continuity.
A tiger team is called upon when trying to respond quickly to a pressing demand or issue, as opposed to brainstorming. In other cases, you might need a special task force to help figure out how to effectively manage a large project with multiple moving parts.
The team can also be helpful when your team members are struggling to gain momentum or focus simply because they don’t understand the root cause of the problem. Solving the wrong problem might lead to wrong decision-making, which could result in costly mistakes for your business.
How to Assemble an Effective Tiger Team
In theory, assembling a tiger team is an exciting idea. In practice, however, it can be a real challenge to get the right people designed to work effectively. You need a highly collaborative tiger team that can work fast through the issues.
There are no hard and fast rules when forming a tiger team. But there are things to consider when building a tiger team:
- You’ll likely want to keep the team small. Tiger teams of 2-3 members are common for smaller projects. Larger projects could require tiger teams of up to a dozen or more members.
- Choose people who are experts in the areas of the issue you’re looking to solve for the best results. However, it’s crucial to also involve people who aren’t familiar with the problem as well as members of technical and non-technical backgrounds. This enables an all-rounded approach and multiple perspectives on the problem.
- Assign the group one leader with the ultimate decision-making power, but who welcomes input from all team members. Remember, tiger teams are cross-functional groups of people who come together “temporarily” to identify problems and suggest solutions. Therefore, you’ll need someone with good leadership skills and can manage diverse teams.
The process of building a tiger team is straightforward:
Analyze the issue
First, you need to identify the problem that needs solving. For example, your company could be experiencing a series of security threats, and can’t seem to mitigate them as quickly as possible. Or, you could be on the verge of introducing new technology, but a bug that you and your team can’t identify is threatening the mission.
Having a clear idea of the problem and its impact on your business will help inform the purpose of the team.
Get the right people for the job
Once you’ve figured out the critical problem that needs immediate attention, you’ll need to decide who to include on the team. Don’t just select people based on their job titles. You must identify people with the desirable skills and experiences suited for the job.
Prioritize people with diverse backgrounds so they can bring different perspectives and insights into the problem. You also want to select a team leader who can guide the team to deliver the desired results.
Map out how you want the process to move forward
Just because you have the best of the best doesn’t mean things will flow perfectly. You must provide goals and objectives, so everyone understands what needs to be accomplished, the timeline to work with, and the expectations.
This way, members will have a strategic direction to follow, leading to better resource utilization and efficiency.
Offer resources and support
Your tiger team will require certain resources to facilitate their operations. Resources like budgets, technology, personnel, and data will play a crucial part in how they accomplish their tasks.
Additionally, the team will need ongoing support from senior management, including feedback sessions and regular check-ins. The support you offer as a leader shows you’re committed to helping them achieve the set goals and objectives.
The Tiger Team Approach
Tiger teams are assigned to investigate potential and viable solutions to unique challenges and problems. A great team is composed of mature experts who:
- Understand and appreciate the complexity and criticality of the task they are assigned
- Understand what needs to be done to get the results
- Are team players
- Demonstrate strengths in their fields, including organizational agility and diversity of knowledge
As we mentioned earlier, tiger teams go beyond the conventional brainstorming sessions by assembling people with extensive experience and skill sets in the problem area. They combine their expertise to analyze data, identify areas that need improvement, and develop innovative ideas and strategies for implementing the changes.
The tiger team approach differs from any other team-based approach in the way they carry out the process. Tiger teams don’t just focus on finding solutions, they ensure these solutions are feasible, acceptable, or suitable. They also figure out how to implement these solutions.
The tiger team approach involves the following steps:
- Framing the problem
- Performing analysis to identify possible causes
- Testing the solutions and their effectiveness until they find the best solution
- Agreeing on the solution and documenting the results
Are Tiger Teams Useful in Remote Projects?
Yes! Tiger teams can be used to solve the most challenging and intensive remote projects. If done mindfully, remote projects can even be accomplished faster than in-person projects. Although it might be tougher due to the lack of in-person interactions, teams with a high degree of collaboration and communication can pull it off effortlessly.
Thanks to technology, tiger teams can work and collaborate remotely using tools that support the visual depiction of data or models. Whiteboards and stickies allow team members to brainstorm ideas, develop solutions and strategies, and work as if they were in the same room.
If anything, a remote environment will likely increase the productivity of tiger teams. Team members can take advantage of schedule flexibility to better fit the additional tasks into their work-life balance.
Remote projects also support asynchronous activities. For example, the team leader can circulate “read aheads”, concept sketches, and so on before meetings to help team members prepare ahead of time and absorb concepts at their own pace.
In addition, team members can upload relevant podcasts, articles, or a selfie-video recording to get the team thinking and focused before the upcoming meeting. Quieter, introverted team members are also known to excel more in remote sessions, further streamlining the team’s work.
However, for tiger teams to work effectively on remote projects, good communication and collaboration must exist between team members. Communication is particularly crucial and can make or break team effort.
To mitigate communication challenges, consider the following:
- Exchange team bios and spend longer getting to know each other. Start meetings with icebreaker activities to establish rapport and trust.
- Prioritize pre-meeting preparations. Research by the Harvard Business Review indicates that 65 percent of meetings keep senior managers from completing their own work. The study also found that 71 percent of meetings are unproductive. Therefore, keep meetings short, collaborative, and engaging. More importantly, prepare all the necessary tools to streamline meetings and reduce time wastage.
- Create detailed meeting plans. Participants should arrive prepared before the start of the meeting. They should know who will be speaking on each point and the allocated minutes for each discussion. The team leader should communicate the goals of the meeting and a list of anticipated deliverables.
- Center meetings around deliverable documents to prevent discussions from wandering off-topic.
Tiger Team Best Practices
Here are the best practices to keep in mind when forming your own tiger teams to ensure your efforts transform into successful outcomes:
1. Set clear goals
Everyone on your tiger team must understand exactly what needs to be accomplished before getting started. They should also comprehend why it needs to be done. Ensuring all participants are on the same page facilitates better problem-solving sessions and increases group efficiency.
2. Clarify roles and channels of communication
Apart from knowing their goals and purpose, each member of your tiger team must understand their roles and responsibilities. Assign the team a leader to take charge and make it clear who should be doing what.
In addition, clarify the communication style and channels to be used within the team. Remote teams may be limited by different time zones, and knowing when to use live and asynchronous communication might prove more effective.
3. Provide your tiger team a dedicated space
Your tiger team will work more efficiently without distractions from other tasks or coworkers. Having a dedicated room or Slack channel provides a conducive environment to support intense work.
4. Offer your tiger team access to resources
It’s important to provide your team access to all the technical resources they need to plan and work more effectively. From software to computers and other devices, these resources will empower them to collaborate and communicate better, and thus deliver quality work.
5. Define your project scope
Scope creep is a real challenge for teams when collaborating on issues. The team usually starts off focused on the main problem. However, at some point, the discussions can wander and veer off into other matters that may be related to the project but aren’t central to the issue at hand.
If left unchecked, scope creep can lead to the waste of resources like time and money. That’s why it’s crucial to define your scope and provide clear goals and deliverables for the project. Your team will work better knowing what the core problem is and where to direct their efforts and energy.
6. Track and evaluate team progress
First off, a tiger team works effectively to determine the root cause of the problem and possible solutions. The entire process needs to be documented to make it easier for senior management to monitor and evaluate their progress.
Project management software can help ensure that all the steps and results are recorded and accessible. Management can also follow closely every stage and address any issues before they become too big to handle.
Time-tracking software like Traqq can be handy to monitor team performance and ensure proper time usage. The team leader will be able to manage the team workload and ensure that no individual has more work obligations than they can handle.
7. Celebrate successes
Lastly, it’s important to recognize achievements when milestones are reached. These accomplishments, no matter how small, when acknowledged, help keep teams motivated and inspired towards completing the ultimate goal.
As a leader, you may not have a reason to build your own tiger team. The good news is that now you know what tiger teams are, how they approach issues, and how they can benefit you. This post has also equipped you with the know-how to leverage the effectiveness of a tiger team when faced with critical problems on your projects.
While the road won’t be smooth, it’s worth a try if you want to use tiger teams to hasten the path to resolution.
What Is the Purpose of a Tiger Team?
A tiger team’s main purpose is problem-solving. It’s composed of handpicked, highly qualified experts in their fields tasked with solving high-priority issues. These are creative thinkers who collectively come up with innovative ideas and fresh perspectives to develop and implement viable solutions.
Are Tiger Teams Effective?
Tiger teams are highly effective. Individuals combine their expertise and experience to identify the origin of the problem and develop strategies to resolve them. Tiger teams are small, agile, cross-functional groups made up of mature experts who understand the problem and know what to do and how to do it.
What Is the Origin of Tiger Teams?
The term “Tiger Teams” originates from NASA when a team of specialists was formed to help the crew of Apollo 13 to return home safely.
What Are Some Examples of Tiger Teams?
- The most popular tiger team was tasked with saving the crew members of the Apollo 13 Service Module that exploded and malfunctioned while on a mission. NASA director Gene Krantz and members of his “White Team”, later renamed to the “Tiger Team” were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their efforts to facilitate the safe return of the Apollo 13 astronauts.
- In a security company, a tiger team is a group of experts that detect and avert security threats.
- In 2007, the United States Air Force had a team of counter-snipers tasked with keeping watch for enemy activity while stationed in Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq.
- The U.S. Department of Labor’s Tiger Teams work across the national UI system, analyzing state UI systems, identifying challenges, and developing tools and resources to mitigate the challenges for the state.