Better RFP Responses & Management
Just Like Families

Just Like Families

From the definition:

Proposal team: the group of people assigned to produce a proposal in response to a specific RFP.

Always overworked; often overwhelmed; frequently underappreciated.

Hahaha. True, but missing a few salient points. Here’s one.

Proposal teams are just like families:
They’re all dysfunctional.

Proposal teams are usually (always, in my experience) ad hoc teams of people lacking established group norms and accepted reporting/supervisory structures. By any reasonable measure, the work of the response is more than can be accomplished in the time available: Creating a functional team is way more than a bridge too far.

As a result, the behaviour that emerges is either the natural behaviour of the individuals or the corporate culture of smaller sub-groups on the team. Is the team task- or status-focused? Welcoming or hostile to new people? Cooperative or snippy? Open to new ways of doing things or entrenched in previous processes? Interested in new approaches or dismissive thereof? Good communicators or idiots?

Oh, sorry, that last was my outside voice.

As a manager, it’s worth some time (preferably between proposals) to identify what dysfunctions your teams are exhibiting and how to minimize their impact. Training? Coaching? Supervision? Threats? Reassignments? Firings?

As a proposal conscript, it’s worth some time (preferably at the start of a proposal) to think about what behaviours you want to model, what contribution you can make and want to make to a happy, healthy, and effective team.

Good teamwork doesn’t fall from Heaven: It’s built, bit by bit, from the ground up. And many hands make light work.



  1. Jim Taylor

    Ah…. if only your recommendations could be applied more widely…. You’re writing specifically about proposals, but ISTM that the dysfunctionality applies to almost every team, of any kind, working together on almost any project or cause.
    I wonder if taking time — precious time, of which there is never enough — during the process to have a workshop, essentially, on how the team functions would in fact save time in moving towards a finish?
    Jim T’

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Yes, this is Seth’s point, I guess: “People like us do things like this.” Big teams sometimes lay out expectations (or maybe it depends more on the proposal manager than the size of the team). The problem I see is that some folks are just not well suited to teamwork. Telling them is insufficient: it requires active and ongoing supervision, which is also in short supply if not entirely MIA. Sadly, in some cases there might be no solution short of defenestration of self or others.

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