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Tiger Teams & Their Effectiveness in Solving High Priority Issues

Updated on: 30 November 2023 | 8 min read
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Even the most agile teams with the ‘eye of the tiger’ and are laser focused on achieving their goals can run into barriers along the way. When in such mission critical situations, a tiger team is what you need to come up with rapid solutions. Let’s learn more about what tiger teams are and how they can effectively help you to resolve high priority issues.

What is a Tiger Team?

A tiger team is a small group of handpicked experts who are tasked with solving high priority problems in a project or business. Tiger teams are often used to tackle high-impact, high-priority, or high-risk projects that require a lot of expertise and agility. They usually consist of senior-level professionals from different departments or functions, such as engineering, finance, marketing, legal, and operations. They also have a corporate sponsor who supports them with resources, funding, and personnel.

Tiger teams have several advantages over traditional teams. They can:

  • Break down silos and foster collaboration across the organization
  • Bring diverse perspectives and skills to the problem
  • Move fast and adapt to changing situations
  • Focus on the most important and urgent issues
  • Deliver innovative and effective solutions

How did Tiger Teams Originate?

The term was first used in a paper titled ‘Program Management in Design Development’ co-authored by A. S. Crossfield, W. A. Davis, J. R. Dempsey and W. C. Williams in 1964. The paper defines tiger team as a “a team of undomesticated and uninhibited technical specialists, selected for their experience, energy, and imagination, and assigned to track down relentlessly every possible source of failure in a spacecraft subsystem or simulation."

In 1970, a Service Module of the Apollo 13 malfunctioned during its lunar landing mission, prompting astronaut Jack Swigert to utter one of the most quoted phrases in space exploration,

“Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here."

The NASA Flight and Mission Operations Director Gene Kranz immediately appointed a tiger team to resolve this mission critical issue and this team was able to bring the astronauts back to earth safely. The team was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their efforts, marking the most famous use of a tiger team in history.

Today, the tiger team approach has found its way to multiple industries and business verticals, as a highly effective and successful mechanism which can be employed to resolve critical problems.

Characteristics of a Tiger Team

  • The basic idea of a tiger team is to solve pressing issues fast. Therefore such teams should typically consist of a small number of senior level experts representing multiple departments in an organization. It is important that each member of the team possesses knowledge on different fields so that there will be zero to minimal skills gaps and enhanced agility.

  • They are hyper-focused on the issue, and the role that they fulfill in the tiger team will be in addition to their usual day-to-day responsibilities. A tiger team must also have a dedicated benefactor or a resource provider to ensure that the team is sourced with the necessary supplies throughout the project.

  • They are agile. A tiger team can adapt to changing situations and respond to feedback. They are not afraid to experiment and learn from their mistakes. They are flexible and open-minded.

  • They are cooperative. A tiger team works as a unit, not as individuals. They communicate well and trust each other. They share ideas and resources. They support each other and celebrate their successes.

  • They are tenacious. A tiger team does not give up easily. They face challenges and overcome obstacles. They are determined and committed to achieving their goal.

When Should You Use a Tiger Team?

Tiger teams are not meant for your everyday-tasks. The right time is to use them when there is a high priority issue that hinders the progress of an important project or business unit. It may be a project that runs the threat of late deliverables or a failing organization that is making continuous losses.

The uniqueness of a tiger team lies in their ability to look at a problem from multiple perspectives and be innovative in finding resolutions, given the team members’ multi-disciplinary expertise and experience. They understand how a problem is connected to many aspects of the development process and therefore are able to focus on the most important and high priority issues, and act rapidly and decisively to resolve them.

What to Consider When Forming a Tiger Team?

Let’s get down to business. Here are a few guidelines that you can follow when creating your own tiger team elite force.

Define and Understand Your Problem

It is vital to develop a clear understanding of the problem at hand, before you appoint your tiger team. Conduct an evaluation of your business requirements and analyze which project should be prioritized and handled by the tiger team. You can use the following questions to develop a baseline into understanding the issue.

  • When and where did the problem take place?

  • How did the issue occur?

  • Who is affected by the problem?

  • What process is hindered by the problem?

You can use a cause and effect diagram, PDCA cycle or root cause analysis to answer the above questions and gather more information about the issue. This exercise will help you to develop a shared understanding about the problem and thereby enable you to determine which team members’ skills can be employed to resolve it.

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Identify Who Should be in Your Tiger Team

Once you have identified the problem, the next step is to select members of your tiger team. As mentioned earlier, typically your team should consist of senior level employees with a proven track record of their work. It is also important to have a balanced representation of cross-functional teams so that the team is aware of each department’s roles and responsibilities in solving the issue.

If your organization already has an org chart that illustrates the hierarchy of employees, their skills and contributions, selecting members for your tiger team is an uncomplicated task. If you do not, then use Creately, to map out your organization’s structure and create an organizational chart which can be used as a central hub to store employee information.

Determine Your Scope and Create a Goal

With the problem in clear view and the team geared up, you are now ready to dive in headfirst to figure your way out of the issue.

While on course, it is equally important not to deviate from what the team sets out to accomplish. Scope creep is one of the most common issues that teams run into even when managing projects or resolving issues. No matter how aligned and focused your team is, there is a possibility of veering of course. This is why it is important to define the scope of what the team is supposed to do. Conduct a collaborative session with the team to identify the objectives, tasks, deliverables and deadlines.

Once the scope is identified, set SMART goals for the team. Creately allows you to set goals and connect them to OKRs so that you can directly monitor progress. Setting goals is beneficial because they make sure that your efforts are directed towards achieving the desired outcome. They offer a perspective to what success looks like.

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Manage Your Work

Once the goals are set, you can list out the tasks that need to be accomplished to fulfill them. This is where Creately’s work management systems comes into play. Create a Kanban board or a task list to assign tasks to each team member of the team with deadlines and resources that are needed to complete those. Having a task management system allows you to directly monitor progress and identify potential blockers, so that you can take prompt action to resolve them effectively.

A tiger team is a highly effective approach for problem solving. It is a rapid response system for mission critical issues. Creately’s work management platform is ideal to execute this strategy, as it allows you to execute the entire process within a single unified data-powered workspace.

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Wrapping Up

Tiger Teams are an effective way to deal with mission critical issues that can otherwise hinder the progress of your projects. You should use a tiger team when you need a small, agile, and cross-functional group of experts to work on a mission-critical project. Tiger teams can help you overcome challenges, find innovative solutions, and deliver results faster and more effectively than regular teams.

Join over thousands of organizations that use Creately to brainstorm, plan, analyze, and execute their projects successfully.

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Hansani Bandara
Hansani Bandara Content Specialist

Hansani has a background in journalism and marketing communications. She loves reading and writing about tech innovations. She enjoys writing poetry, travelling and photography.

View all posts by Hansani Bandara →