The key to problem-solving is the ability to adapt. In the high-speed modern business landscape, agility means the difference between a competitive organization and an outpaced relic. Occasionally, like when launching a new product, redesigning an organization, or implementing new processes, your company may require a tiger team of experts to see it through.
Here’s how tiger teams add value to your organization.
The value of tiger teams
If you regularly work in team settings, you likely understand the value of leadership and the effect that team size can have on productivity, transparency, and accountability. When solving large problems, often the best solutions come from a small team of highly capable creative thinkers rather than from a crowdsourced consensus.
Enter the tiger team—a highly skilled, handpicked roster of experts tasked with solving high-priority problems. Tiger teams leverage deep technical and methodological expertise to approach problems in novel but effective ways.
The most famous example of a tiger team, and the originator of the term, is the historic Apollo 13 lunar mission team headed by flight director Gene Kranz. When the Apollo 13 team heard a dull bang, followed by electrical issues threatening the ship's safety, the world came to know the second-most quoted phrase in space exploration history: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”
NASA assembled a group of highly specialized engineers at the control center on the ground to solve their now-pressing and increasingly high-stakes challenges and to guide the Apollo 13 vessel back home. The media dubbed the cohort the “Tiger Team” and their success earned them the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The original Tiger Team highlighted what we already instinctively knew: small teams of varied and experienced contributors are highly effective in strategic problem-solving. Tiger teams show up in a variety of ways in professional, political, and social settings, from a war council of four-star generals to a software troubleshooting team at a Silicon Valley tech startup.
Why you should adopt a tiger team approach
Business is built on overlapping systems. Inevitable changes within systems mean challenges are par for the course. For your largest challenges, however, having a dedicated brain trust of talented and tested team members could save you time, capital, energy, and ultimately your company.
While taking on your organization’s biggest problems by yourself can feel obligatory when you’re used to handling large responsibilities and can even be gratifying when the results are in your favor, single-handed crisis management is ultimately a poor approach. Tiger teams help to distribute responsibility for outcomes and incorporate critical insight from multiple developed perspectives.
Here are some strategies you can employ when building your own tiger team.
Your team is tasked with forming a new approach, and that means having a full vision for the outcome. It’s critical that you avoid siloing both when building your tiger team and while approaching your project management. Your tiger team members should not only be specialists but multi-hyphenates—novel solutions come from concept synthesis and synthesis thrives with a multidisciplinary approach.
Ultimately, applying familiar concepts to new contexts is the seed of innovation. Multidisciplinary tiger teams draw from a deeper and wider knowledge bank and have the potential to grow that innovation.
When managing projects with tiger teams, avoiding silos means having full transparency in all processes—teams need to be aware of the project scope not just laterally, but from beginning to end. When team members know how their input affects the other team members as well as the end result, they’re better equipped to know when to step forward and contribute and when to step back and evaluate.
Zero in on the issue
Throughout the process of managing a tiger team, you must have total alignment in vision and understanding, beginning with leadership and then extending to other team members. The clearer you are on the problem you’re trying to solve, the more effective your tiger team recruitment will be.
You may even want to draft a formal agreement among leadership on the scope of the problem, as well as an agreement with your tiger team on the scope of the solution. Once you’ve clearly identified your problem, begin the work of aligning with your tiger team, starting with questions like these:
- What are our ideal outcomes?
- What are the challenges?
- Why is each team member here and where do we anticipate their skill set being needed?
- How will we approach the project?
- What resources and partners will we use to achieve our outcomes?
- What steps will we take and how will we deal with roadblocks to these steps?
Save time and speed up deployment
In crunch mode, time becomes especially precious. A temptation many teams have is to under-plan and over-execute, costing themselves valuable time in course correction that could have been solved with more thoughtful planning. Thoroughly mapping out the best course of action and anticipating how potential obstacles will be overcome will save you critical time down the road when you need it most.
However, tiger teams, and all nimble teams for that matter, must regularly put to practice the mantra to “fail fast and fail better.” Your tiger team must have an internal culture of rapid idea adoption and even faster failure recovery.
Your deployment must include a team-wide understanding that failure is informative and not ultimate, like hands molding clay rather than shattering a teapot. A good way to achieve balance between your planning and implementation is to perform small-scale tests where you can, tracking results, and incorporating them into your planning.
Prioritize progress transparency
Accountability is central to all teams, and tiger teams are no exception. It’s likely that not every member of your team will have the same level of understanding of the problem. They may choose to focus only on the part or parts that affect their particular contribution.
To limit this type of disengagement, be explicit in outlining the problem, including identifying existing processes that enabled the problem in the first place. Check in regularly to remind everyone of the end goal and give team members context by showing them how their work is plugging into the end result. This will foster a culture of transparency and ownership across your team.
Additionally, you should document each step of your process, including troubleshooting, corrective measures, and complications. Having a record of your work process is critical to building transparency between team members and steering teams toward an end goal.
Engage employee training in the process
Modern businesses have the unique challenge of maintaining operations while constantly innovating beyond their competition. Similar to the way a computer utilizes random-access memory to assist in processing, tiger teams are the intelligent support solution for modern companies who must innovate while they operate.
Tiger teams not only develop frameworks for dynamic adaptation, but they can also train other teams and disseminate knowledge throughout an organization with minimal interruption. Once a tiger team has proof of concept of a solution or process, they can maximize its impact by connecting their work to the rest of the organization.
A tiger team may sound like a substantial cost, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, for many organizations, investing in a tiger team might be the only surefire way to avoid higher future costs in the form of lost sales, missed opportunities, or unrecoverable glitches in operations.
While some organizations build their tiger teams from external experts and consultants, your tiger team can likely be composed of members of your organization. Titles or certifications aren’t the highest priority with tiger teams—what is most important is that each member is a subject-matter expert (SME). Once your team is assembled, they should always be tasked with forming the lowest cost full scope solution to your problem or issue.
Employing a tiger team is in itself a risk minimization measure because it distributes decision-making from the hands of one or two to a few or many. When it comes to forming a solution, tiger team members should always aim at innovating while mitigating the risk involved with their solutions. It’s a fine line to walk, but that’s why you’ve assembled a team of experts that you can trust.
Take the first step
Have you decided to put together your first tiger team, but don’t know where to start? Begin with an organizational chart to visualize and understand which team members are available, who has the right skills, and who has a proven record of complex problem-solving.
Start building out cross-functional teams with this easy-to-use template in Lucidchart.