tiger team

Innovative Solutions with Tiger Teams: A Deep Dive

When companies are struggling to innovate, problem-solve, and simply stand out from their competition, they need to double down on creativity, intelligence, and speed. But how can they achieve all three? A tiger team comes to the rescue. In this article, we’ll explain what it is, why you need it, and how to assemble a tiger team. 

What is a tiger team?

A tiger team is a group of people with diverse expertise and complementary skill sets, assembled to work on a specific project or problem. Tiger teams often consist of members who are outside the normal organizational structure, drawn from different areas of the company. Their goal is to provide a solution to the problem more quickly and effectively than could be done by any one individual.

The term comes from the U.S. military, and is also used in marketing and product development. The military first used “tiger teams” in the 1960s, to refer to a specific group of experts assembled to help NASA deal with problems on its space missions. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that tiger teams became a common practice in business.

Tiger team example

If you’re looking for a turn-around example, look no further than the Apollo 13 mission. Flight director Gene Kranz headed up the team, which was assembled when a dull bang and subsequent electrical issues threatened the ship’s safety and success. As soon as he heard the now famous words “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” Kranz knew it was all hands on deck. He sprung into action, assembling 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 called this group the “Tiger Team” and they earned medals from the president for their success!

The word “tiger” suggests that the team is fast and agile in addressing the problems they are given.

In business, tiger teams are sometimes set up to identify weaknesses in existing systems or develop new strategies for growth. The idea behind the approach is that a diverse, cross-functional team will be able to bring together ideas and approaches that would not otherwise occur.

Tiger teams are often temporary, with no more than five members. Consider another example, that of a cybersecurity tiger team:

  • A cybersecurity tiger team is a specialized and task-oriented group assembled to address and strengthen an organization’s cybersecurity defenses.
  • Comprising experts in areas such as ethical hacking, threat analysis, and system security, the team focuses on identifying vulnerabilities and mitigating potential threats.
  • Their time-limited and intensive efforts aim to enhance the overall security posture of the organization by proactively identifying and addressing security risks.

When tiger teams are assembled

Assembling a tiger team isn’t something that should happen all the time; it’s typically used only in specific circumstances. There are several different situations when a tiger team might be useful. One example is when the normal process isn’t working and you need to make improvements quickly.

Tiger teams can be used to fix problems or improve processes outside the normal course of business, such as testing new applications or improving operational efficiency. They may also be formed specifically for crises, such as when a company needs to respond quickly to a pressing demand or problem.

The approach works well when you are trying to solve a complex problem as opposed to brainstorming. It’s also helpful when you need to figure out how to complete a task that has multiple moving parts and requires several departments to be successful. In either case, it’s useful to bring together a team of people with different skills so you can get the job done.

Advantages and disadvantages of tiger teams

Tiger teams are often formed for short-term, high-impact projects or urgent problem-solving, making them distinct from other types of teams. The cybersecurity example illustrates how a Tiger Team can be employed to address specific challenges requiring immediate attention and expertise.

Advantages of a tiger team

  • Highly specialized skills and expertise in their respective fields, allowing them to bring a depth of knowledge to tackle complex problems effectively.
  • Designed for quick mobilization and action, tiger teams enable organizations to address urgent issues or seize opportunities promptly, contributing to agility and responsiveness.
  • By leveraging diverse perspectives and skill sets, tiger teams often generate innovative solutions to challenges that may have been overlooked by traditional approaches, fostering creativity and innovation.
  • Operating with clear objectives and deadlines, tiger teams promote a sense of accountability among members, ensuring focused efforts toward achieving goals within defined timeline.
  • Tiger teams often consist of members from different departments or disciplines, fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing across organizational boundaries, which can lead to holistic problem-solving approaches.

Disadvantages of a tiger team

  • Assembling and maintaining a tiger team can be resource-intensive, requiring investment in recruitment, training, and ongoing support, which may strain organizational resources.
  • The temporary nature of tiger teams may disrupt existing workflows and processes, leading to resistance or friction within the organization, particularly if not managed effectively.
  • While tiger teams excel at addressing specific issues or projects, their narrow focus may result in overlooking broader strategic considerations or long-term implications, potentially limiting their effectiveness.
  • Once the immediate problem is addressed, there may be challenges in integrating the solutions developed by the tiger team into the broader organizational framework and sustaining their impact over time, requiring careful planning and implementation strategies.
  • The intense nature of tiger team engagements can lead to burnout among members or high turnover rates, particularly if adequate support mechanisms and work-life balance measures are not in place, which can affect team morale and effectiveness.

Why build a tiger team

The value of tiger teams cannot be denied. 

By using individuals from different areas of expertise, fresh perspectives are brought to the table. 

In addition, diversity among team members can lead to greater creative thinking and open exploration of ideas. 

Furthermore, individuals from different departments or organizations will have different priorities to balance as they work toward a common goal. 

Finding opportunities for collaboration and synergy across teams is often the most powerful outcome of this type of approach.

Team composition

Remember, a tiger team is only as effective as the members who participate. The composition of the team will depend on what you need, but there are three main elements that make up a tiger team:

  • The lead person who is responsible for the whole process and who leads the team.
  • People who have a specific skill and can help with a particular part of the process.
  • People who understand some of the technical aspects of the work, but do not have a specialist skill or area of expertise.

How to bring together a tiger team

Tiger team, assemble! 

In theory, building a tiger team is a great idea: a group of people with different skill sets who come together to solve a problem.

In practice, however, it can be a real challenge to actually get tiger teams to work effectively. A truly collaborative tiger team will be able to work through issues faster than if everyone is working on their own.

Let’s say your organization has been experiencing emerging security threats and can’t seem to mitigate them as quickly as you’d like. You’ll want to put together a tiger team made up of representatives from your marketing department, IT department, product development department, and customer service department.

The process of bringing together a tiger team is pretty straightforward:

  • Analyze the problem—is it large enough to warrant creating a tiger team? If so, move forward with the next steps.
  • Decide on which departments should be represented by members of your tiger team.
  • Consider what skills and knowledge each representative will need in order to contribute effectively.
  • Map out how you want the actual problem-solving process to go once the tiger team is formed.

Make sure you have someone with strong analytical skills who can quickly break down problems and work through them. You need someone who’s great at persuasion because they’re going to be building consensus around solutions. And finally you need someone who’s good at organizing data. That person will be keeping tabs on the team’s progress and documenting its conclusions.

How to lead a tiger team

Now that you brought together the team, you need to do two things: establish a common purpose and make sure they know their roles.

Let’s start with common purpose. When you bring together people who are high-performing, it’s usually because they’re each very good at different things. So you need to make sure that everyone knows what the overall goal is. This way everyone can focus on what individual tasks will help them achieve that goal.

Next up: Roles. When you’re working with a group of people who are used to being in charge of everything, it’s easy for them to clash or step on each others’ toes. Especially when it comes to divvying up responsibilities. It helps if everyone knows what each person’s strengths are and how that fits into their overall plan for the project. But sometimes even that isn’t enough! One good way to manage this is to have your tiger team members rotate responsibilities over time.

But even with these elements in place, there are still going to be challenges along the way that could derail the project. It’s important for everyone involved in tiger teams (including managers) to recognize that potential stumbling blocks exist and be prepared for them. That means taking time at every milestone point along with a way for reflection. If something isn’t working as well as expected, what should we do next?

This is a set of steps you’ll need to follow when assembling the tiger team. They will help you out-execute, outperform and out-innovate the competition. All in all, a tiger team has a lot to offer, and if used effectively can make all the difference in the success of a project. 

Even if you have no reason to form your own tiger team, now that you know what they are and what they do, you’ll have no trouble recognizing one when you see it—and knowing how to leverage their efforts for your own benefit.

While some roadblocks will be inevitable, this is all you need to know to get started.

Let us know how it goes in the comments below!

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