Tiger Teams can accomplish complex and challenging tasks for a company or CEO. But there are best practices to make Tiger Teams successful. I’ll share best practices and pitfalls in this post based on 11 Tiger Teams I have been a member of, including several in which I was the lead. My intent is also to show readers what could happen if you take your eyes off the ball. Let’s get started!

Tiger Team
Will the Tiger Team Roar? Or be a Bore?

What is a Tiger Team?

Anyone who has researched Tiger Teams has learned that NASA created the concept for Apollo 13 in 1970 when a complex problem with the O-Rings required the most highly skilled engineers to resolve the issues. Tiger Teams were born. Also referred to as a “Task Force”, the difference is a Task Force may be an ongoing group of people to address issues that may not be as critical as the Tiger Team. Tiger Teams are assembled and disassembled when the problem has been solved.

Why use the Tiger Team technique?

The approach is ideal to solve critical issues, that are short term in nature and require the company’s highly skilled talent from cross functional groups. It is possible, that team members don’t typically work together.

How to start and execute with the Tiger Team?

As any major project, identify the desired outcomes, bring clarity and direction with goals and milestones, reserve budget, if needed, and consider the following:

  • Executive sponsor who reports, facilitates, tracks budget, milestones, and is the cheerleader and figurehead for the team
  • Assign Cross Functional Team: each with skill sets needed, “believers” that the team approach will solve the issues, that will “own it”
  • Set ground rules and insure team members are allowed the time from their regular jobs/roles

I mentioned above I was on 11 Tiger Teams in my career. There is no need to share exactly what they were, but let’s identify the purposes of these teams to understand how the approach was applied.

Tiger Team forDescription of ProblemApprox Duration
Secret Product launch at a trade show at the old AstrodomeOnly a handful of people knew about the launch12 weeks
Select project to invest in for next several years (5 teams)Internal Competitive Environment, jobs were at stake across the company 6 weeks
AcquisitionCross functional and cross divisional team required for due diligence effort12 weeks
Project delays and low quality slowed revenue and customer satisfactionFormed a cross functional team that we called “GUTS”, Group Under Tremendous Stress, to resolve all issues and get back on track12 weeks
Revenue shortfall for fiscal quarter Sales and Product Management Teams attacked pipeline to bring deals in to quarter6 weeks
Product delay, forced productizing a targeted replacement from a different divisionCross functional team, including the channel, as they had already sold the delayed product and needed the replacement 16+ weeks
Open Source integrationAn older and newer product line needed to be merged or replaced, and open source software was considered to bring these products together in a near seamless wayMultiple teams over 12 months
Bold GuaranteeCompetitors were hurting sales with lifetime warranty, and we were getting returns costing significant revenues and lost customer satisfaction; warranty was only a year12 months; Tiger Team stopped and project moved to core
AcquisitionCross functional team required for due diligence, different company size and process than above12 weeks
New Generation of product, after multiple delaysThere were 3 teams inside the company competing to win this project. Due to this project that had many missteps, the teams started/stopped until finally, the CEO and senior leadership team created one projectN/A (Took Years to solve, could have been easier)
Sales focused team of non-sales, marketing, and product resourcesBudget and resource constrained, the CEO formed a team of the only sales resources in the company, and added people who never sold before; this team had multiple people who were not bought in causing severe challenges.
Past Tiger Team Projects

I have written about some of these Tiger Teams in my book, “The Rookie CEO, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!” so check it out to read some behind the scenes scenarios about 9 Rookie CEOs, including Tiger Teams as well as many true stories, all with take-away learnings at the end of each chapter for aspiring and new CEOs and leaders.

Best practices

As describer above, here are the key elements of a successful Tiger Team (may vary depending on project type):

  • Executive Sponsor who will lead the Tiger Team
  • Assign team members who “believe” in the approach and will “own it”
  • Set ground rules and define the process for the team to follow such as regular meetings – daily, weekly, etc.
  • Provide Clarity of goals and desired outcomes
  • Develop and track timelines and milestones
  • Consider Agile type process for this team, such as daily stand-ups and short term deliverables
  • Assign accountability partners/mentors to support the team and cover if any member is out sick or tied up elsewhere

Common Pitfalls

The teams identified in the table were at different companies over the past 25 years. I led several of these teams and was a team member of others. I personally love Tiger Teams and the approach. Here are the pitfalls to watch out and plan for to reduce risks:

  • Executive Sponsor is disinterested
  • Competitive team members attempting to sabotage the project because they are not committed to owning it
  • Ground rules are loose and not respected
  • Like any team, include only the team members needed and ensure they are “believers” this project and approach will work
  • Include team members from outside the core area who are excellent resources to get things done. If you use the same people, you’ll get the same results you are trying to solve for

Summary

If your company has the need to solve short term critical problems, The Tiger Team approach can be of great benefit if you get it right, and it can be a huge bust if team members just do not care and do not step up. Thus the “Roar or Bore” title. Of the projects above that I was involved with, I gave my all – almost every time. It is true that I was not a believer in a couple of these projects and they were failures because one or more of the pitfalls were present. If you are the CEO or leader of the Tiger Team, move fast to remove people not on board and replace them with team members who want to make a different and solve the problems.