Posted by: Jack Henry | November 8, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Tiger Team

Dear Editrix,

There’s a tiger team for Episys PowerFrame. There’s a tiger team for SEDB/SSDB. Every time I turn around, there’s a tiger popping up here at Symitar. Where did this term “tiger team” come from?


On Safari

Dear Mr. Safari,

A couple of weeks ago, one of our fearless leaders asked me about the origin of the word copacetic. I found several answers, but professional etymologists did not give any of them the thumbs up. Today, you ask me about tiger teams, and I feel a little sad that, again, I cannot provide a definitive answer. But many resources claim they know the origin of this term, so we’ll look at those.

First, though, let me provide a definition of tiger team: a tiger team is a group of specialists that join together to solve a specific problem.

Second, I will tell you that I found several different branches of the U.S. military claiming it was theirs, including the Navy and the Marines. I guess that makes sense, since tigers are fierce. (Okay, that didn’t come out right.)

I found many more sites that pin it to NASA and the Apollo 13 team (1970). From a site called Trextel, here is the information I found, also repeated on other websites:

While the term originated at NASA, and the most famous instance is undoubtedly the Apollo 13 Tiger Team (they did, after all, receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom), the term is now generally applied to a high-functioning team of specialists who come together to complete a specific project.

Wikipedia mentions a paper written in 1964, as an earlier use of the term. It says:

A paper entitled Program Management in Design and Development used the term tiger teams and defined it as "a team of undomesticated and uninhibited technical specialists, selected for their experience, energy, and imagination, and assigned to track down relentlessly every possible source of failure in a spacecraft subsystem."

My favorite information, however, is a different comment from the same Wikipedia article:

Jane Goodall, [KC – English primatologist and anthropologist] among others, has noted that tigers are not cooperative animals and has suggested referring to chimpanzee teams because of the intense cooperation that occurs in chimpanzee social groups.

So, there you have it! I hope that satisfies some of your curiosity.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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