Tiger Teams

In Recent Posts, Execution by Steve Sliwa

The name “Tiger Team” was first coined by NASA to describe a highly skilled team of individuals with different specialties coming together to solve a set of complex problems. Problems do not occur in isolation, and by that same token, neither do solutions.

The Apollo 13 mission might not have ended successfully if it weren’t for a Tiger Team. As the crisis in space developed, a team of highly specialized NASA engineers worked tirelessly on the ground to solve a complex set of problems and guide Apollo 13 home to safety. It was a defining moment in history, and the team’s efforts saved three legendary astronauts and defined a new approach to problem solving.

I have used Tiger Teams throughout my career to create more focus and apply broad talent to solving critical problems.  It’s a form of rallying the troops and ensuring we have the best resources lined up to address a problem.  Here is some advice I have collected about running Tiger Teams.

Here is advice compiled by Rebecca Peredo from Faith Technologies:

  1. Start with the end in mind… and don’t lose sight of it!
    This sounds simple enough, but in any operations-focused company, it feels uncomfortable to slow down and spend time on planning and design. But time invested in communicating the goal, returns tenfold in avoiding waste and rework downstream. Clearly articulate the vision and what success looks like in measurable terms and bring it up often to ensure you stay out of rabbit holes that steal your focus.
  2. Select and manage team members with care
    Tiger Teams are made up of experts from multiple disciplines that help solve complex problems, and importance must be given to selecting the right expertise for the tasks at hand. This creates a problem in itself, as some individuals may not work best in a team setting. For others, their day jobs may not involve working across departments, giving rise to communication barriers. Team harmony may be difficult to create in this environment; however, assigning a facilitator role can help link the different perspectives to a common goal and capitalize on everyone’s strengths to maximize the team’s performance.
  3. Balance planning with action
    How often do you have a great idea, then spent ages crafting the perfect plan? Usually, that idea never sees the light of day. To be an effective Tiger Team, you have to live by the philosophy of Test Early, Fail Fast. Balance the planning and design with small-scale tests to validate (or disprove) your theories and assumptions. Use the tests to collect implementation feedback so you can design a roll-out plan alongside your process design. That way, you never get too far down a path, or too attached to an idea, that will not be sustainable in your organization.
  4. Cultivate a sense of ownership and accountability
    Chances are not every team member you select to work on a problem can see the whole problem, and may be focused only on the part that affects them. This can result in some folks being disengaged from parts of your work effort. Take the time to clearly define the problem, and make explicit all the enabling structures that allow the problem to exist in the first place. Remind everyone of the end goal, and tie that vision to the action steps your team is working on. This will help create a sense of ownership and provide meaningful context for your team.
  5. Socialize the scope, activities and progress with the broader organization
    In addition to spending the time to cultivate the right environment and cadence for your Tiger Teams internally, connecting the work they are doing to the rest of the organization is another way to truly maximize their impact. Solution ideas that show promise within the scope of the project can be leveraged in other areas of the organization, once you have proof of concept.
    Sharing the progress and outputs from your Tiger Team can help spur innovation in other departments and help develop a culture of continuous improvement across your organization. How can you make Tiger Teams work for you?

Here are four steps to ensure that your Tiger Teams deliver from Trextel:

Step 1: Alignment. From the site assessment and initial action plan, make sure the full team (internal and with partners) knows the goals of the project and the technology involved.

Step 2: Deployment plan. Map out the best way to implement the plan on-site and anticipate how to handle complications that may arise.

Step 3: Document. As the first hands-on part of the process, document the install process, recommend the correct kitting, and record steps to troubleshoot complications that could be universal to all deployments.

Step 4: Disseminate. The knowledge gained (good and bad) during these deployments is spread to the other deployment teams so each install goes with minimal disruption.

Tiger Teams are highly effective not just because they have technical expertise, but also because they know how to use that expertise in concert and in context. That’s a process and skill set that can take years to hone, and not all companies invest in the quality of their teams to that extent. But in the long run, it’s worth it.

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