Tiger teams: How to act fast and stay nimble

Headshot kontributor Caeleigh MacNeilCaeleigh MacNeil8 April 20226 menit baca
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Summary

If you need to act fast and solve important problems, a tiger team can help. Tiger teams are small, cross-functional groups of specialists who can stay nimble and make decisions without being bogged down by too many stakeholders. Learn when to use a tiger team and how to set your team up for success.

“Houston, we have a problem”

It’s 1970, and astronaut Jim Lovel is running out of air. After two successful days aboard Apollo 13, Lovel and his crewmates heard an explosion rock the ship. The blast had hit an oxygen tank in the ship’s service module, bleeding precious air out into space and placing a ticking clock on the crew’s survival. 

Back on Earth, Nasa flight director Gene Kranz got to work. He assembled a group of specialists to troubleshoot the failing spacecraft—and after four grueling days, they helped the crew splash down safely in the South Pacific Ocean. 

That group of specialists later became known as Kranz’s “Tiger Team,” giving rise to the common work term we use today. 

What is a tiger team?

A tiger team is a group of experts brought together to solve a specific problem. Tiger teams disrupt how your business is typically organized by putting cross-functional specialists in the same room—so you can remove silos and approach critical problems from multiple perspectives. This type of team is small and nimble, so the group can act fast and come up with novel solutions that more traditional teams couldn’t manage. 

There are two main approaches to tiger teams: 

  • First, team members can work exclusively on a tiger team project until the problem is solved or your objective is achieved. Then after the project is complete, each group member returns to their typical day-to-day role. This is similar to the Apollo 13 example above, because each team member was focused entirely on getting the space crew home. 

  • Second, team members can work on a tiger team project in addition to their day-to-day role. They don’t drop everything in favor of the tiger team—instead, the tiger team is like any other cross-functional project they work on, except with a more intentional and focused structure. 

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When should you use a tiger team?

Tiger teams are like an elite task force. You use them when you need to act fast and solve business-critical issues or complex problems. Since tiger teams are small, they have freedom to think creatively and make decisions quickly. They can be nimble and avoid bogging down the problem-solving process with too many stakeholders. 

You can use a tiger team approach to fix a failed project, work on a new high-impact project, or investigate solutions to business problems. For example, a travel company might have formed a tiger team to handle business impacts when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Or in less dire circumstances, a tech company could form a tiger team to investigate solutions to common customer pain points.

If you’re still not sure if creating a tiger team is the right move, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you need a cross-functional team with different perspectives on an issue? Tiger teams include subject matter experts from different teams and so you can remove silos and incorporate a breadth of expertise. 

  • Do you have a clear problem that needs to be solved or a project that needs to be completed? Tiger teams are a targeted approach. In order to recruit the right people, you need to know what the team’s purpose is.

  • Do you need to act quickly and decisively? Tiger teams don’t need to verify with lots of stakeholders before making a choice, so they can move faster than traditional teams. 

  • Does your project require a high level of transparency and understanding between stakeholders? Since tiger teams are small, it’s easier for them to communicate and share information. 

  • Do you want to minimize the risk of a big decision? Tiger teams distribute responsibility from one person to a group of experts, so you’re more likely to make the best possible choice. 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, a tiger team may be just what you need.  

Who should be on your tiger team?

The short answer? It depends on what you’re trying to do. 

You need different types of expertise for different problems, so the people you pick for your tiger team will vary based on the team’s overarching objective. For example, a tiger team focused on solving a specific customer pain point might include stakeholders from customer service, engineering, sales, and product design. However, you probably wouldn’t need anyone from HR or finance, because that type of expertise isn’t as relevant for product improvements. 

Each person on your team should be a specialist in their field, but they should also be experienced enough to understand how their work intersects with other teams. For that reason, tiger team members are often more senior employees with a diverse array of knowledge. If you just include team members with hyper-focused skill sets, you may need too many people to fill in all the knowledge gaps and consequently slow everything down. 

Tiger teams should be small, so it’s best to restrict the number of actual team members. That said, you can still loop in additional stakeholders who want to stay informed on the tiger team’s progress. This allows more senior stakeholders to ensure things are on track without getting their hands full with the details. For example, the tiger team can send regular progress status reports to a broader group of stakeholders.

Tiger team best practices

Being on a tiger team can feel like trying to navigate through the jungle—there are no rules, and you’re making it up as you go. But with a few best practices, you can give your team the structure and direction you need to solve complex problems fast. 

Clarify responsibilities and communication norms

Once you choose the members of your tiger team, be sure to clarify everyone’s roles and responsibilities. That way you know who’s in charge of things like scheduling meetings, securing approvals, tracking budget, and so on. When you clarify responsibilities, each contributor can move faster and more confidently—instead of wasting time figuring out who should do what. To make things super clear, you can create a RACI chart or team organizational chart to document everyone’s role.

In the same spirit of clarity, create a communication plan that outlines how your team will keep in touch with each other. This includes what to communicate about when, what channels to use, and when to use live vs. asynchronous communication

No more silos: Optimizing your organizational structure for stronger cross-team collaboration

In this free ebook, learn how to structure your organization to prevent silos, move faster, and stay aligned in the face of change.

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Understand the problem

Everyone on your tiger team needs to understand the problem you’re trying to solve. That baseline understanding is essential for your team to set goals and create solutions that actually address the root cause of the issue. 

Review the problem as a group to ensure everyone is on the same page. As a starting point, answer the following questions: 

  • Who is involved with the problem or affected by it? 

  • What is happening and what processes is this problem impacting? 

  • Where did this problem take place? 

  • When did the problem happen? 

  • Why is this problem happening and why does it have such a big impact? 

  • How did the problem occur? 

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Create a goal

A goal gives your tiger team a clear direction for their work. It defines what success looks like, so you know when your team has achieved their objective and finished their work. This is especially important if employees are exclusively focused on a tiger team project, because they need to know when work is complete before they can return to their normal day-to-day responsibilities. 

There are lots of goal-setting methodologies out there, including SMART goals and objectives and key results (OKRs). Regardless of the method you choose, make sure you have a way to measure progress and a clear timeline to achieve your goal.  

Define your scope

Scope creep is one of the biggest causes of project failure. We’ve all experienced it before—your team starts out focused, but then discussions veer off to issues that are related but not essential to your main objective. You may start to add on additional deliverables and expand your project scope to include more work—all while getting farther and farther away from the initial problem. 

You can prevent scope creep by defining your project scope before starting work. A clear scope outlines exactly what the goals and deliverables of your project are, so you know when you’re veering away from your main objective. If your tiger team starts to focus on non-essential issues, you can point to your project scope to get things back on track. 

Get in the same room (or video call)

Historically, tiger teams have relied on in-person collaboration to get things done. While modern communication tools and project management software make it easier to work asynchronously, some amount of face time is still important for tiger teams. That’s because a tiger team’s power comes from deep cross-functional connection, and meetings (including virtual ones) are the best way to build camaraderie and relationships. This is especially true when team members come from different roles and parts of your organization. 

Create asynchronous communication channels

In-person collaboration is great, but it’s not realistic (or time-efficient) for everyone on your tiger team to be in the same room all the time. People need time for focus, and having too many meetings can clutter up your schedule and make it impossible to set aside time blocks for deep work. That’s why a balance of in-person and asynchronous communication is essential for tiger teams to stay connected but still give everyone the alone time they need to work and brainstorm possible solutions. 

Asynchronous communication comes in many forms, but the most important thing is that everyone on your tiger team uses the same communication tools. A project management tool like Asana can simplify things by letting you communicate in the same place you track and document your work. That way, your team doesn’t have to jump back and forth between different channels all the time. 

Manage your workload

Being on a tiger team can take up a lot of time, and it’s typically a departure from your normal day-to-day tasks. That means you may need to cut back on other work obligations to make room for tiger team projects. And if you’re a manager, it’s important to help your direct reports prioritize tasks and balance their workload when they join a tiger team. 

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The future of cross-functional collaboration

The nature of work is different than it was in the past. People are more distributed than ever, working across time zones and countries to get things done. But that doesn’t mean cross-functional collaboration strategies like tiger teams are fading out of the picture. It just means you need the right tools to stay connected, aligned, and agile—because how you work is much more important than where you work. 

No more silos: Optimizing your organizational structure for stronger cross-team collaboration

In this free ebook, learn how to structure your organization to prevent silos, move faster, and stay aligned in the face of change.

Optimizing your organizational structure for stronger cross-team collaboration ebook banner image

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