Let’s Use Tiger Teams to Get the Big Things Done

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Dear Mr. President:

Let’s face the obvious and unavoidable fact: the US Congress is broken. It’s been broken for several decades and might stay broken for several more.

The appalling casualty rate of ideas and initiatives on Capitol Hill has become intolerable. We can no longer afford to watch our biggest and best ideas die of asphyxiation. These are dangerous times and the stakes are much too high.

We need another way to get the big things done—a way to bypass the Congressional “sphincter” and turn good ideas into reality.

We have such a way. It’s called the “tiger team” approach, and it’s been proven in lots of successful organizations, including the US military, some federal agencies, and in business enterprises.

In a nutshell: whenever an organization is too sluggish, too ponderous, too arthritic, too incompetent, or too conflicted to handle a difficult challenge, we need to build a work-around. We just have to leave the bureaucracy to its own paralysis and set up a separate, temporary enterprise that’s laser-focused on one assigned mission.

Here’s How It Would Work

  • First, we turn the Vice Presidency into a true executive leadership position.
  • We make the VP the “Alpha Tiger,” and provide her with a cadre of specially chosen, high-powered, experienced, proven, hard-charging, fast-moving, hair-on-fire, take-no-prisoners team leaders.
  • We give them special training in “guerrilla politics,” which is the art and craft of rounding up the various factions that have to be part of the solution and herding them relentlessly to a well-articulated goal.
  • Each of the tiger team leaders (TTLs) takes on a single big, bold objective: getting one thing done come hell or high water. Abolishing the Electoral College; setting term limits;  redesigning the immigration system; passing a national ban on assault weapons; Constitutional amendments—whatever you and the Vice President decide deserves to be attacked with this unorthodox method.
  • The TTLs hand pick their key team members and get moving. They don’t submit a plan for approval; there’s no budget request; no bureaucratic review process; no micro-management. They just hit the ground running.

The whole tiger team concept is based on momentum: you have to move with such speed, determination, and coordinated action that the bureaucracy simply can’t drag you down.

It might involve a high-profile effort to build public support for an initiative. It might involve enrolling various activist groups and personalities in a common cause. It might involve persuading corporate leaders, or unions, or special-interest groups to lend their support. It might involve drafting legislation and ramming it through the Congress.

Sure, they’ll probably rub a few people the wrong way. They might break some china now and then. Within reason, that’s the cost of getting big things done fast.

Here’s an Example

This case example comes from the airline industry, but it’s easy to see how the same process can be used in achieving national goals, Mr. President.

In the early 1980s, the European airline industry was caught in a severe downturn.  The Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), was suffering the same difficulties as all the other carriers. The BOD brought in a young, bright, and energetic CEO named Jan Carlzon. They charged him with the mission of turning things around, or at least preparing the firm to compete better once the recovery came.

Carlzon studied the state of the airline industry and zeroed in on a key value proposition: punctuality. As the “business[man]’s airline,” i.e. catering to frequent business travelers who moved about Europe every day, he concluded that on-time take-off and arrival could become a key competitive advantage. Customer research showed that SAS had one of the worst reputations for punctuality, but none of the competitors fared much better.

He called in one of his most trusted action people, a man who had a track record of getting things done. According to the telling, he said, “I want us to become the most punctual airline in Europe, as quickly as possible. Do whatever it takes to see that we achieve  that goal.”

“OK,” the designated quarterback said, “I’ll put together a plan and a budget and come back to you for go-ahead.”

“Don’t come back to me with anything,” Carlzon said. In a characteristically male pattern of discourse, he said something like, “You have as much authority as you have the b***s to take. Get it done.”

He hit the ground running. Everyone he encountered in the organization understood that he spoke and acted with the full authority of the Chief. Things started happening fast. He seldom heard the word, “No.”

The short version of the story has it that SAS did indeed become the most punctual airline in Europe, by a significant margin, within about 4 months’ time, and a cost of just a few million dollars. That one advantage, coupled with an intensive follow-up campaign of improved customer service, put SAS into the black nearly a year before its competitors got there.

We Can Do This, Mr. President

Can you imagine the excitement, the increased energy, the commitment, the enthusiasm for your Blueprint for a New America—all across the federal establishment—that such a radically new way of getting things done could generate?

I can . . .

Respectfully Yours,

Karl Albrecht


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