Tiger Teams

How specialized, cross-functional teams can help turn business threats into opportunities.

Andrei Papancea

  • Thoughts by Andrei

It doesn’t matter if you work for a startup or an enterprise. At some point, there will be an unplanned event that requires expert attention and work, often falling outside the normal scope of work for a team or department within an organization. This circumstance could be as much an opportunity as it is a threat.  

In my experience, it could be a new product development that a key client is requesting, or an improvement to an internal employee program, a key customer integration, etc. The situation could be an elusive slow-burning problem that reaches boiling point, or it could come out of left field - outside you and your company’s control. 

The good news is that there are so many ways to remedy such events! One of the practices that has worked well for us is the use of Tiger Teams to solve acute, short-term problems and opportunities. 

My favorite definition of the term “Tiger Team” comes from Lucidchart, and is defined as “a specialized, cross-functional team brought together to solve or investigate a specific problem or critical issue.” And the history behind Tiger teams is interesting as well - Lucidchart continues, “The term ‘Tiger Team’ originates from the military and was made famous by NASA who deployed a Tiger Team during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 to safely and successfully guide the space vessel back to earth.” 

The mission was short-term, high-stakes, and required the expertise of multiple experts.

The team’s success in bringing all astronauts home safely gained worldwide attention in addition to earning a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Leaders from around the world noted the successful strategy and began adopting it in their own organizations and companies. 

Today, most companies have some version of how they handle Tiger Teams, but NLX’s rules and guidelines – created by our Director of Business Operations Ellie Ransom – around what a Tiger Team is and what it does has guided our success. 

For example… 

Rule #1: Only the CEO can create and disband an NLX Tiger Team.  

Andrei Papancea

Andrei is our CEO and swiss-army knife for all things natural language-related.

He built the Natural Language Understanding platform for American Express, processing millions of conversations across AmEx’s main servicing channels.

As Director of Engineering, he deployed AWS across the business units of Argo Group, a publicly traded US company, and successfully passed the implementation through a technical audit (30+ AWS accounts managed).

He teaches graduate lectures on Cloud Computing and Big Data at Columbia University.

He holds a M.S. in Computer Science from Columbia University.