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What is the tiger team or cross-functional method and what are the advantages?

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Many entrepreneurs and managers think that a lot of manpower is required to solve a critical or urgent problem. But this is not always the case. Contrary to popular belief, a large and complex problem is sometimes solved by a small but specialized and agile team. If an organization is constantly struggling to solve problems or provide solutions, it means that it will probably have to change its organizational structure and choose the tiger team method or the use of cross-functional teams.

Read More: Team Building Process in Startups and Small Businesses

What is a tiger team or the strategy for building cross-functional team?

Tiger teams are composed of a number of experts in various fields whose goal is to solve a problem, provide a creative and innovative solution. The team actually plays the role of the storm troopers in the police that is supposed to solve the problem in the fastest time and in the most optimal manner, and to fulfill their mission. The idea for cross-functional teams was first applied by NASA for Apollo 13 mission the 1970. This mission was not successful; due to a defect in one of the units, the mission was disrupted and the spacecraft passengers were endangered. NASA has taken an interesting initiative to solve the problem and bring astronauts back to the Earth. NASA brought together a team of experts to diagnose, fix, and bring astronauts home safe as soon as possible. This experience introduced and popularized the use of cross-functional teams in various industries. Today, this idea is widely used in organizations that have a group-based or project-oriented structure and are constantly faced with new and technical problems and complexities.

When should tiger team be created?

As mentioned earlier, cross-functional teams are created to solve problems, crises and provide solutions in the shortest possible time. The first goal and focus of cross-functional teams should naturally be high performance and productivity, multifaceted investigation of issues and accomplishment of missions in the shortest possible time. Cross-functional teams are just like special groups. Naturally, you will never see such groups fining cars in the city. Similarly, it is a fallacy to create a cross-functional team to entrust low-level, day-to-day tasks to them.

A cross-functional team may be tasked with rescuing a failing project or being deployed to remove significant obstacles in the way of that project. Sometimes, these teams are created in response to new projects created by new opportunities. Therefore, the lifespan of cross-functional teams lasts until the mission accomplishment. After that, the team members return to their previous work and duties and remain in that position until the next cross-functional team is formed.

Who creates tiger team?

Different people are responsible for creating and leading cross-functional teams. Depending on the purpose and type of task that this team is going to undertake, different people, with a good view of different departments of the organization would be responsible for creating the team; these people may be selected from different departments such as financial, technical, legal, Sales, marketing, etc.

Selection of tiger team members is done based on their spirits, performance and range of skills. Each person in a cross-functional team must have several skills and abilities so that the best team could be created to solve the problem at hand. In addition, the skills and experience of the team should be in a way that it covers different areas and minimizes their collective lack of awareness about the issue. Therefore, the presence of experts without different skills or without a broad view of the organization can slow down performance, reduce agility and increase their likelihood of errors. Ultimately, this group of skillful and knowledgeable experts regarding the organization’s processes, are in need of someone to respond to their requests. This person provides financial needs, additional manpower, various resources, etc.

The advantages of a cross-functional team

Creating cross-functional teams brings about several advantages. First of all, the members of this team are all experts in one or more areas and have a good understanding of the goal they are pursuing. As a result, the group generally knows what to do to achieve the desired goal and can easily communicate with different departments of the organization. The cross-functional team, in addition to its high skills, is small and agile and has high capabilities and efficiency. Hence, the group can make decisions and implement them quickly.

Since the members of this group have experience and expertise in various fields, they can investigate the issue from several dimensions and fully understand it. The result of this complete vision is the identification of key points to offer a solution to the problem.

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How to create tiger team

To create cross-functional teams, the following steps must be taken:

  1. Defining the problem and purpose of the team: Before forming a team, the purpose of creating this group must first be determined. The most important question to ask is whether dealing with this issue requires a team of several experts. Therefore, before forming a group, one should carefully examine the situation and determine the purpose and priority of the group that may be formed.
  2. Identification of the required skills and experiences: Once the problem has been identified, it is time to select the necessary skills to solve the problem. For example, a purely technical problem may require a number of engineers or a group of highly experienced technicians. However, general problems of the organization probably require a combination of experts from different departments, from the technical department to the sales and legal departments. Therefore, it is the nature and type of goal and project that determines the required skills of individuals in the tiger team.
  3. Selection of the required people: After determining the required skills, people who have sufficient expertise and experience in that field should be selected. This step is usually taken simply because it is relatively easy to identify the right people to meet the needs of the group. These people are usually experienced and well-established employees. In fact, the removing the novice employees from the list of candidates for tiger team determines the initial list of candidates to join the group. In smaller organizations and companies, creating such a list of qualified people is relatively simple, but in larger companies with a greater variety of skills and departmentss, this becomes a bit more difficult; to do this, some software can be used.

The strategy for benefitting from multi-skilled teams

Cross-functional teams usually use these strategies to quickly diagnose and fix a problem:

  1. Observation and recording the signs and symptoms and effects of the problem
  2. Identification of its possible causes
  3. Developing a method/methods to present and test theories about the root of the problem
  4. Selection of one method according to the priorities determined for that group
  5. Definite confirmation of the root cause of the problem
  6. Provision of possible solutions
  7. General agreement of the team and approval of the solution and its effectiveness
  8. Registration and announcement of the solution and its final result

Applying this method makes the orientation and effort of the team focused and maximizes productivity.

Common mistakes in the strategy of creating cross-functional teams

Although cross-functional teams are made up of skilled, experienced and specialized people, this does not mean that this group is able to overcome any obstacles in its path. Despite the experience and skills of individuals, this group may still make mistakes, fail to reach the expected productivity or fail to resolve issues quickly.

In order to avoid these problems as much as possible, it is better to observe the following issues:

  • Strategic management and guidance of the group
  • Identification of the main problem and alignment of group members
  • Scope creep management
  • Documentation

Strategic management and guidance of the group: For the highest efficiency, the cross-functional group must solve each problem in its own way. Without a proper understanding of the problem or a leadership strategy to solve it, the group may mistakenly seek to eliminate the consequences instead of finding the root of the problem and fixing it.

Identification of the main problem and alignment of group members: To solve a problem, the group must first identify the main problem and then work on a strategic solution to deal with it. Therefore, each person in this group should gain an understanding of the situation and align their direction with the whole group so that in the next stage, people can help to determine better possible solutions by sharing their views, opinions and information with others.

Scope creep management: It is assumed that after determining the main goal or problem, the work will begin to fix it and provide possible solutions, but in most cases, this process is not so simple. Projects usually undergo unintended and intangible changes over time, which is called scope creep. Moving towards solving the problem usually turns from taking a straight path to wandering in different directions due to the dynamics of the situation and the factors affecting it. For example, with the change of market conditions, or customer demands, etc., the initial conditions under discussion may change slightly and a new strategy may be applied to solve the problem. This change of direction is trivial and can be ignored, but after several changes, the small effect of these changes will be significant. The sum of the effects of these changes is better seen when the route and the goal are compared with the original destination in the middle of the way and after several changes. Sometimes, a change of direction leads to a loss of purpose and a waste of the group’s effort, causing people to become involved with marginal issues. This can slow down the process, waste resources and even call into question the group’s purpose!

Documentation: As mentioned before, the first step after forming a cross-functional group is to create a mechanism to diagnose the problem and then to try to provide possible solutions to deal with it. This process is completely dependent on documentation and recording events, information, processes, etc., because without these cases, it will be impossible to apply the proposed solution for other parts of the organization.

Cross-functional team, or tiger team , is the solution to crises and immediate problems whose agility, flexibility, skill, and open vision distinguish them from other units and groups; the solution seems to be most useful for companies that are constantly facing new challenges.

Read some examples of tiger team : wikipedia

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