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TEAMING: How To Implement Your Own Tiger Team


Last week we explored the background of Tiger Teams – how they began and their original purpose.  The realization for me was that Tiger Teams had evolved from an espionage orientation to a problem solving one.  That evolution opens up the possibility for all organizations to explore the value of creating Tiger Teams.  It also became clear that every team does not need to evolve to the level of a Tiger Team and also, that simply working on a kaizen event or root cause mapping does not make a team or a Tiger Team.  It’s not a group of experts; it’s experts who can create synergy, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

People selected for a Tiger Team have to come with the whole package.  For example, a process engineer on a Tiger Team has to be as competent introducing a process change to employees as he or she is in how to design a process differently.  Scientists on a project Tiger Team have to be as skilled in affirmative inquiry as they are in assay development.  So let’s imagine we want to create this type of Tiger Team.  Where do we start?  How would it develop over time?

Leadership determines need: Leadership within the organization would begin by identifying the need for Tiger Teams and where they might be utilized – like a SWOT team – to address critical problems.  Leadership would also define the specific qualities required of all Tiger Team members.  The chart below might offer a beginning list of characteristics and competencies:

 skills needed for a tiger team

Imagine if we had had 8-10 of these types of individuals handling the BP oil spill, or within FEMA during Hurricane Katrina, or NASA during the Columbia launch.  Maybe we wouldn’t have needed a Thad Allen to come in to New Orleans with a ‘command-and-control,’ ‘line-in-the-sand’ model if a Tiger Team had been in action from Day One. 
Defining the Problem/Challenge: So do we only need a Tiger Team when a crisis emerges, or is a Tiger Team valuable for everything from strategic planning and project management to process improvement, and even to a certain extent applicable to a highly self-directed team with huge deliverables? For example, let’s say we have an IT interface problem or supply chain deficiencies, or narrowing profit margins, or insufficient new products in the pipeline.  Couldn’t these all benefit from a Tiger Team approach?





What are the goals and negotiables: Once we have the problem or challenge defined, the Tiger Team is chartered with specific, aggressive (even Big Hairy Audacious) goals and clearly defined negotiables and non-negotiables.   It is seen as an elite team with minimal boundaries, reporting to the executive level.  The team quickly comes together to articulate the high level strategy for goal attainment, the structure, system requirements, resources and approach.  This doesn’t take months to achieve; it’s completed in days with a detailed “project or business plan” that is reviewed for approval.  This approach is not about having a project manager or leader who runs every meeting, scribes the action items, maintains the GANTT chart, and performs all the functions, while other team members simply attend and pontificate their opinions.  This approach is about high levels of shared accountability, with everyone delivering on time, ready to go.  The “sorry I didn’t get to it” excuse would be unfathomable.  The expectation on a Tiger Team would include a “back-up” who is alerted when meeting a deadline becomes questionable. (Request our article: 5 Ways Teams Can Build Stronger Accountability)

The Tiger Team would have no problem defining and monitoring expectations, protocols, standard procedures and detailed work breakdown plans.  Meetings are seen as high performance opportunities – like a March Madness basketball game – where synchronized sharing of responsibilities and smooth, fast-paced flow is the norm.  They are given the freedom in their schedules to make the Tiger Team a priority.  A member would never consider not completing a pre-read for the meeting. The team relies on a constant check of facts vs. assumptions.  A universal decision process is applied, where decisions are tracked for results and maintained in databases for future reference.   A RASCI chart details accountability and responsibility for every member and key stakeholders.  Members are open to feedback about performance issues and look for opportunities to enhance their skill sets through training, mentoring and personal development.

Welcome the storm: Once past the typical “forming” stage of team development, the Tiger Team welcomes the “storming” stage as a sign of progress as diverse viewpoints are voiced and personality differences emerge.  Conflict is seen as normal, healthy, even invigorating.  The team is able to discern between “storming” that represents growth and “storming” that is the result of confusion, change fatigue, or control issues.  The latter is quickly corrected so the team can advance to “norming,” able to recommit to the team as an essential element in the success equation.  The Tiger Team is always assessing the team’s health as rigorously as its progress toward the goal.  They recognize that the two are inter-dependent for success.  Behaviors like grand-standing, sarcasm, put-downs – even the “meeting after meeting” – are not tolerated.

Tiger status: As I’m writing about this team I can visualize it in my own mind.  I can also truthfully say that I have only been involved with one team that would quality for the Tiger status.  It was a small team charged with closing down a plant as successfully as possible.  It sounds like a misnomer, but the team captured the vision of getting every employee secure in a plan for his/her future (e.g. going back to school, another job, entering the job market), while simultaneously relocating production and equipment and sustaining some operations without people abandoning ship. 

So the question becomes:  Is it realistic to assume that our organizations have some hidden, potential “Tiger Team” members in our midst who would welcome the challenge of utilizing everything they have to give?  Or, is it about just getting by, happy when we leave a meeting with no action items we have to do?  I want to challenge leaders to use the Tiger Team vision in their organizations, to map out development plans for Millennials (Read our article: Millennials: Engage, Motivate, and Retain the New Workforce) to show them how they could become eligible for a Tiger Team; to scoop in the Baby Boomers who are counting the days until retirement to leave a more important legacy behind by transferring their extensive knowledge to members of a Tiger Team.  Being designated as a Tiger Team member would carry prestige and privilege.

Deborah is the author of three books on teaming, including her most recent, The Team-Building Toolkit, 2nd Edition (AMACOM, 2007). Explore more about Tiger Teams with an interview with Deborah Mackin in our 2-Minute Offense feature.

Needing more insight and guidance?  Download our FREE Skinny Star Point Roles Guide and learn how to increase accountability within your teams today. 


  • Hi,
    Could anyone provide me with info, were i could get training to become a Tiger Team trainer/coach?
    I work for a gold mining company as a Continuous Improvement Specialist, and would like to group, coach and guide Tiger Teams in every main departments we have.
    Flying over for the training is no issue as long as the training package with knowledge is justified.
    Jaswant Bipat

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