Tiger Team is a monthly cross-corporate super team of 25+ passionate people to boldly tackle problems in the administration and city. This collaborative experiment brings together staff, citizens, and community stakeholders for 2.5 hours to understand and explore complex problems, generate ideas and prototype solutions to test with users. By bringing together these diverse perspectives Tiger Team is able to compress timelines, find unexpected solutions, identify change makers, and break down silos.
In an organisation of 15,000 people, silos are inevitable, and even necessary in many cases. As challenges become increasingly more complex and the administration strives to improve our services every day the need for a new working model emerged. A new space was needed to collaborate and find better ways to solve critical problems for the citizens of Calgary. Passionate change makers had to be found and brought together.
In 2016 a partnership between The City of Calgary’s Innovation Lab and the Liveable Streets team was formed to co-design Tiger Team: a cross-corporate super team that meets once a month to boldly tackle problems that no one mind can overcome alone. 20-25 change makers are convened - a mix of city staff from all different work areas, City partners, community groups, engaged citizens, and even local developers: An open invite where anyone is welcome.
Each Tiger Team works with the client to design a working session using innovation and design methodology that will help participants purposefully move their work forward in an accelerated and unexpected way. The process starts with a client who owns a complex challenge that could benefit from a broad range of perspectives and innovation thinking. Often these challenges are brought forward by City of Calgary staff, but occasionally community partners' challenges are also dealt with.
In a 2.5 hour session, the Tiger Team will use a combination of exercises to accomplish the tactics below to co-create together:
-Explore, understand, and reframe the challenge
-Generate, sort, and evaluate as many ideas as possible for a solution
-Prototype potential solutions in a low-cost, quick and effective way
-Get users to test and interact with the prototype to gather feedback and learn fast
-Find and build the critical relationships to tackle future work
-Create working tools for future use in this challenge
Tiger Team tackles a different problem every month. Given the open nature of the invitation, participants are attracted to the opportunity for a variety of reasons ranging, from their general desire to work collaboratively and break down organizational silos to significant attachment to or interest in the problem. It’s part of what makes each Tiger Team unique and the outputs rich and vibrant.
Broad themes that the Tiger Team has taken on include activating businesses (in unlikely ways) during massive construction projects, better coordination of snow and ice control efforts as a City, encouraging City staff to take more risks and working with citizens to improve neighbourhood way finding.
Examples of complex challenges that Tiger Team has taken on include and who has benefited from the work are:
-Residents: Tiger Team helped a suburban community in Calgary called Coventry generate actionable ideas and prototypes for better way finding in their community. These were then implemented by citizens to improve liveability and community cohesion. These learnings can also be replicated and implemented by other communities throughout the city.
-City Staff: Tiger Team worked with the City’s Planning Department to improve the web-based, interactive map which helps citizens learn more about their neighbourhood and contribute feedback for city building. The session focused on improving their interface through user testing and generating future state ideas and tactics.
-External Organizations: Tiger Team worked with the New Central Library Service Design team to build design thinking skills and develop/test four prototypes for engaging with citizens around controversial topics such as public art and vulnerable populations.
Overall, the goals of Tiger Team are:
1) To help solve the challenge, through a creative working model that has been proven to work regardless of the challenges' origin or nature. This model includes:
-Leveraging the skills, experiences and resources of the cross-corporate innovation network; using trusted innovation tools and methodologies to understand, ideate, prototype and test solutions
-Implementing impactful solutions boldly
-Gaining key support and buy-in from senior leadership for innovation programming
2) To foster an innovation culture at The City of Calgary by:
-Building a network of passionate change makers that can turn to each other for support
-Modelling the vulnerability and courage needed for innovation work as challenge owners; Openly share their work with others, including citizens
-Creating a successful model for collaborative work in the City context
-Building innovation capacity through tools and mindset development
The Innovation Lab and the Liveable Streets teams plan on continuing Tiger Teams monthly to solve multi-faceted problems together. The Innovation Lab is now using the Tiger Team model to offer a new service called “Accelerators” and is also being used by senior leadership at the City.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Tiger Team draws on four key elements: a complex, human-centred problem, a diverse group of change makers, the application of innovation methods, and the Innovation Lab space. This is possible thanks to leadership support and permission space for participants to contribute.
Problems chosen for Tiger Team require input from a variety of perspectives and skill sets giving a system view. It attracts individuals who are disruptive thinkers and are willing to contribute that mindset to other people’s problems. It draw on innovation methodologies from Design Thinking to Systems Thinking as well as Project and Change Management. Finally, it is hosted in a flexible, neutral space that encourages people to leave their titles at the door and contribute as an inter-disciplinary team.
These challenges would otherwise take multiple meetings spanning over months. By using the Tiger Team format, problems are explored and unexpected solutions found in a compressed time frame.
What is the current status of your innovation?
To date, over 20 Tiger Team sessions have been held, and many more are planned for the next months.
The success of Tiger Team overall has not gone unnoticed. The City’s senior leadership is considering ways to adopt the Tiger Team model to accelerate and advance their work with an innovation focus. They are both utilising the existing Tiger Team, and also co-opting pieces of innovation methodology on their own.
Picking up on this signal, the Innovation Lab developed a new service called “Accelerators” that mimic Tiger Teams but are project-specific. As opposed to open invites, the sessions are still deliberately cross-corporate but more curated in terms of participants and topics. Accelerators have tackled everything, from operational records to the highly complex and controversial external contractor management.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Officials – These are the problem owners. In addition, they bring the skills, expertise and viewpoints of their own departments to guide the problem.
Citizens – Contribute with their thoughts, insights and lived experience on the problem which are used to form the solution. This creates a better city, designed for and by citizens, who then often implement the prototypes generated.
Organisations – Offer different perspectives and sometimes contribute to the solutions based on their expertise.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Officials – Have the opportunity to work across silos and challenge traditional problem-solving techniques. As problem owners, Tiger Team helps them move their projects forward in more informed, collaborative ways.
Citizens & Organisations – Their involvement builds trust and relationships, enabling Tiger Team to work through barriers more efficiently. As recipients of the solutions they are often directly impacted. From the proposed solutions, they can implement new programs that help further their mandate.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Tiger Team broke down silos - Enabled collaboration across an organisation of 15,000 people and 32 business units to create the permission space for developing creative solutions for problems.
The Team created connections between people – Leveraged skills, experiences and resources of staff to co-create impactful solutions. This subsequently builds a strong sense of trust and further support for cross-collaboration outside of the Tiger Team space.
Found efficiencies – Streamlined the process of soliciting diverse perspectives on an issue and exploring it in an unconventional manner to find unexpected solutions faster.
Provided a safe space – A place to be self-critical and solutions-focused, the Innovation Lab is allowing staff to reflect and improve the ways that the administration serves Calgary’s citizens.
Going forward a ripple effect to become more risk tolerant is expected – changing mindsets to think about risk in a positive way and changing mental models on how to apply risk assessment to projects.
Challenges and Failures
Building Trust - No two Tiger Teams are ever the same. They hinge on the right combination of problem, participants and tools, despite a consistent use of format and methodologies. It takes a high degree of courage and vulnerability on the part of the client to open their problem up. Clients need to have trust in the process and the people involved before they will meaningfully allow for cross-corporate and community collaboration.
Following up for implementation – An improvement is to explore how follow-up or coaching could be deliberately built into the process. While the Innovation Lab is able to assist in interpreting the results of the sessions, the bulk of the action and implementation is still left to the problem owners. This means that sometimes the results of a Tiger Team aren’t acted upon as quickly or as fully as they could be. As Tiger Team continues to evolve the team behind it is working on developing resources to help take learnings to the next level.
Conditions for Success
Change Makers – Tiger Team has a unique opportunity and permission space for participation, attracting people in the organisation who are interested in making change in a collaborative manner. Their experience and subsequent sharing generates momentum and successful attendance.
Innovation Tools and Methods – Sessions are co-created with the problem owner. Teams use innovation tools and methodologies including Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, service design, etc. These are proven methodologies that continue to prove effective in the Tiger Team environment. The sessions are part problem-solving and part professional learning.
The Space – Tiger Team is held at the Innovation Lab, which is a space that is creative, colourful, self-authoring and flexible: whiteboard walls, rolling chairs, and no boardroom tables. The spaces asks people to leave their titles at the door and come into a space where they are expected to bring their whole selves and be beginners, learners and experts equally.
The success of a Tiger Team or an Accelerator hinges on the development of a permission space for people to contribute outside of their normal workspace, and a vulnerability of problem owners to open their challenges to their non-immediate teams internal and external to the organization.
This can be replicated starting from the following formula:
1 problem + 20-25 diverse change makers (internal and external stakeholders) + 2.5 hours + creative space + permission space with support from leadership + innovation tools and methodologies.
Equates to: high-impact creative solutions + an innovation network + cross-corporate collaboration + courage to take on risks + organizational efficiencies.
The Innovation Lab has developed a new service called “Accelerators” that mimics the Tiger Team format but are project-specific and as opposed to being open corporate wide, participants are more intentionally curated from diverse business units throughout the corporation.
Problems, solutions, and actioning of outputs from Tiger Team work best when problem owners approach Tiger Team, as opposed to being targeted or “voluntold” by a colleague. Previous participation of the problem owner in a Tiger Team is also essential. They are then aware of the scope and impact of creative dialogue, and in a position where they are willing to be more vulnerable (in airing their challenges), with a strong likelihood to use the outputs in a significant way.
A Tiger Team model needs to be intentionally cross-corporate from its inception and maintain this focus. This extends from the problem selection through to the leadership of the Tiger Team. The project team is the combination of an Innovation Designer who brings professional learning, experience design, and innovation methodologies, and a community-minded engineer who brings strategic lens, a deep understanding of City culture and endless connections both within City staff and the broader community.
An example of direct participant feedback: “I just want to say how great that Tiger Team session was the other day! We have been dealing with big challenges with the status quo forever, and I honestly think there was more progress made in that 3 hour session than in the last few years of the standard format meetings.
It was just awesome to have all those minds in one room to freely discuss the issue. From that session, we discovered that two of our teams have been working in isolation on parallel solutions to solving the same problem, and now I have a meeting with them tomorrow to see if we can share our tools and start collaborating on the solution. This is a big step that is happening directly as a result of that session.”