A tiger team is a term used to describe any small, cross-functional group of people that come together with the goal of solving a specific issue.
The term originated in a 1964 paper entitled Program Management in Design and Development, and was popularized by NASA when they formed a specialized "tiger team" to solve the accident that occurred on the Apollo 13 manned lunar mission in 1970.
“Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
During the Apollo 13 mission, which was the third meant to land on the Moon, a malfunction caused an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks.
The explosion vented the contents of both of the oxygen tanks to space, leaving the service module without a way to generate electric power for propulsion, and without oxygen needed for breathing.
With the moon landing canceled a team of specialists was quickly formed with the goal of simply getting the astronauts back to Earth alive.
This team of specialists, initially called the "White Team" and later designated the "Tiger Team," were tasked with solving numerous technical challenges, even helping the crew fabricate an adapter using a sock, plastic bags, a sheet of cardboard and duct tape, to reduce the rising levels of carbon dioxide on board.
The crew transferred to the lunar module as a lifeboat and shut down various areas of the spacecraft to conserve resources for the journey home. Dealing with limited power, sleep deprivation, near-freezing temperatures, and a shortage of drinking water, the crew looped around the Moon and returned safely to Earth.
The mission was famously described as a "successful failure" and NASA's tiger team of specialists received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their efforts in bringing the crew back home safely.
Since then, the term tiger team has been used more generally to refer to any group of experts from different departments or with different skills, who come together to solve a specific technical or complex problem.
In this guide we explain what a tiger team is and how organizations can form their own tiger teams to achieve their goals. Plus, we share some best practices for success.
What Is A Tiger Team in Business? 🐅
A tiger team, in a business context, is a term used to describe any small, cross-functional group of people that comes together with the goal of solving a specific issue facing an organization.
This could be a group of employees from different departments or even from different offices, who collaborate to solve problems on a specific project or projects within the business.
By bringing together people from different parts of an organization with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, members are able to leverage their collective knowledge and resources in order to develop more innovative solutions than they would by working alone.
What Is The Tiger Team Approach?
The tiger team approach involves forming small, diverse teams in order to tackle specific complex initiatives.
The goal of the tiger team approach is to identify any issues or potential problems with a system, then develop solutions that can be implemented quickly and efficiently. The team uses an iterative process, which means they start by identifying the issue, then brainstorming strategies to address it. From there, they move into testing and implementation phases until the issue is resolved.
A tiger team goes beyond a traditional "brainstorming" session by bringing together people from different disciplines who can work intensely and collaboratively on a problem. By combining their expertise, they can analyze data, identify areas of improvement, come up with innovative ideas, and develop strategies for implementing the changes.
An interesting aspect that separates the tiger team approach from many other team-based approaches is that, not only do tiger teams focus on finding solutions, but they also carry out the work needed to implement the solutions.
Due to the diverse backgrounds and deep expertise of the individuals in a typical tiger team, an organization is often able to gain more creative solutions than if one person was tackling the problem alone.
How To Build A Tiger Team
If you're looking to implement the tiger team approach to solve a business problem, there's a few things you need to know.
First, the structure of your tiger team will depend on the type of project you are tackling as well as the size and scope of your organization. There are no hard and fast rules here, but you'll likely want to keep the team as small as possible while still having enough "brains on the problem."
Tiger teams of 2-3 people are common, especially for smaller projects. Large tiger teams could comprise of up to a dozen individuals, or more.
When choosing individuals for your tiger team it's best to select people who are experts in the areas of the problem you're looking to solve, since that will yield the best chances of success.
But it helps to also include people who aren't familiar with the issue, and to involve members from both technical and non-technical backgrounds, in order to gain multiple perspectives and different potential solutions.
Generally speaking, most tiger teams will have one leader who has ultimate decision-making power but encourages input from all members of the team. Since a tiger team is a cross-functional group of people that come together "temporarily" to solve a problem, the head of the team needs to have good leadership skills and be able to manage diverse teams.
There's a lot to think about when putting together your own tiger team, but there are some steps you can follow to make things easier.
Step 1: Identify the Problem You Need Solving
The first step in building a tiger team is to identify the problem or issue that needs solving. This could be anything from coming up with ideas for new products, finding ways to improve customer service, or figuring out how to reduce costs.
It’s important that you have a clear idea of the problem before you start assembling your team.
Step 2: Gather the Right People
Once you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to start gathering people who can help solve it. When selecting members for your tiger team, look beyond their job titles and consider their skill set as well as their experience.
It’s also important that people on your tiger team have diverse backgrounds so that they can bring different perspectives and approaches to the issue at hand. At this stage you'll want to select a leader for your tiger team.
Step 3: Establish Goals & Objectives
The next step is to make sure everyone understands what their goals and objectives are. What do they need to accomplish? What timeline do they need to work within? It’s essential that everyone is on the same page in terms of expectations so that there aren’t any surprises down the line.
Step 4: Provide Resources & Support
Your tiger team will need access to resources such as data, diagrams, technology, personnel and budgets in order to succeed. Make sure these resources are available ahead of time so they can hit the ground running when they start working on the problem at hand.
Additionally, you'll need to provide your team with ongoing support, which could include feedback sessions or regular check-ins with senior management, so they know you're committed to helping them achieve the goals they've been assigned.
Tiger Team Best Practices
When forming your own tiger teams there are certain best practices you should keep in mind to ensure that your efforts result in successful outcomes.
Establish Clear Goals
Make sure that everyone on your tiger team understands exactly what needs to be accomplished and why it needs to be done. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to problem-solving sessions and brainstorming ideas.
Give Your Team a Dedicated Space
Your tiger team will need a dedicated area or room in which to brainstorm and work on the problem without distractions. This is sometimes referred to as a "war room," and it should be a room or area which isn't used for other general meetings.
Encourage open communication between all tiger team members so that everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas without fear of judgment or criticism. This will help ensure that all perspectives are taken into account when making decisions about how best approach the problem at hand.
It's important that the individuals on your tiger team are able to focus on their tasks without distractions. Therefore it's a good idea to block off the team's calendars so they don't have to attend other meetings during their "tiger team time."
Access to Resources
Make sure your tiger team has access to the technical resources they need in order to plan effectively. This may include internet access, screens, projectors and other devices.
Make sure you regularly evaluate how things are going so that any issues can be addressed before they become too big too handle.
When milestones are reached (no matter how big or small) make sure the achievements are acknowledged so that everyone on the team feels inspired and motivated towards completing larger goals.