How to Foster Teamwork: Rule #7

Everyone leads at some point.
Rhys Newman and Luke Johnson

Proposal teams need proposal managers: I’m goodwith that.  They also need leadership.  What’s the difference?  Stephen Covey’s distinction can help us here:

Effective leadership is putting first things first.
Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.

It’s also expressed as the distinction between “doing the right things” and “doing things right.” Both formulations work.

Proposal Managers: There Can be Only One

Proposal managers are busy folks, doing all those standard management tasks related to doing things right:

  • Assembling resources, defining roles and responsibilities, supervising performance
  • Liaising with executives, teaming partners, and in-house resources
  • Overseeing requirements definition, solution development, proposal writing and review, and costing
  • Managing schedule, schedule, and (yes, again) schedule

And, as in “The Highlander” movie, there can be only one proposal manager.

Proposal Leaders: There Should be Many

By contrast, there can be (and should be) many proposal leaders, both formal and informal,  supporting the team’s quest to do the right things by making invaluable contributions:

  • Challenging assumptions
  • Broadening perspectives
  • Bringing focus
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Flagging priorities

Task-Focused and People-Focused Leadership

Like all work, proposals are about more than the task: They’re also about the people executing the task.  Depending on their skills and personalities, leaders can also help to maintain team morale and effectiveness:

  • Listening more than talking in meetings
  • Acknowledging contributions
  • Bringing in a new joke every day
  • Including everyone in social occasions

Staying on Track

Effective proposal managers create an open, respectful, and yet disciplined environment that fosters appropriate leadership from many sources, while never losing sight of their own management responsibilities — or the need to maintain schedule!


 Proposals are schedule-driven projects that require a strict project management discipline. Right? Partly right. In proposal terminology, I’d call that answer incomplete.  Proposals are projects, for sure, but they’re also the output of teamwork. I’ve recently been learning how much the design business has in common with proposals.

This post is one of a series on proposal teamwork, inspired by a fabulous article on Medium on design teams:
“No Dickheads! A Guide to Building Happy, Healthy, and Creative Teams.”

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