Effective Teams: The Holy Grail?
Doing the impossible with the unwilling for the ungrateful.
At APMP Bid & Proposal Con 2018, one speaker used the above phrase to describe working with proposal teams. And we’ve all been there, haven’t we?
As proposal managers we try to organize opportunities to bid on the right ones, help subject matter experts contribute, support writers to create compliant and compelling content, schedule executive gate reviews, coordinate with finance people for cost proposals, and deliver documents to production departments for a timely response. Sleep is optional. Meals are whatever we find on the conference table.
We try to work with a diverse group of people inside the organization, consultants from outside, and a management team with a mandate to grow the business. Without the right approach, it’s a recipe for immediate disaster and long-term failure to thrive as coworkers and for the business itself. The scars of failed proposal teams litter the landscape of business and leave residual damage in team members.
Teams: the Bad, the Worse, and the Ugly
Successful proposals hinge on effective teams and teamwork. After action review of bad experiences reveals five key factors that, if not addressed, undermine proposal teams, wreak havoc on proposal managers, and result in poor scores during evaluation.
In our experience at Strategy Horizon Consulting, these factors are:
1. Management Support
Who’s in charge here? The Proposal or Project Manager (PM) is an essential leadership role and the supervising manager has to back up the PM’s authority, assignments, and timeframes.
What are we doing? The structure of the team should relate to the structure of the proposal, with clear assignments of activities to relevant members of the team.
3. Role Definition
Who’s doing it? Clear role definitions for all participants have to distinguish their responsibilities distinct from other members of the team and their accountability to meet deadlines.
What’s happening? Frequent communication “keeps everyone on the same page” and ensures that the proposal manager identifies and addresses problems.
Where are we? Proposal plans can go wrong at a moment’s notice. Proposal managers have to recognize trouble and with management support, intervene with the team to get back on track.
The story below combines multiple experiences into one, worst-case scenario: what not to do.
Proposal? What Proposal?
Company X was working on a complex bid with a 30-day turnaround. It was the right Go/No Go: a fit with capabilities, solid past performance; available boilerplate and subject matter experts (SMEs).
- A new senior staff member was the Proposal Manager. She did an outline with assignments, timeframes, and detailed “story-boarding”.
- She then scheduled a conference call. The materials went out to SMEs the morning of the call.
- The call went well, with no questions or comments from SMEs about the two-week turnaround for sections.
- After the two weeks elapsed, the Proposal Manager checked for emails with the expected content from SMEs. There were no emails. None of the SMEs completed their assignments.
- The VP brought in consultants to finish the proposal with two weeks left before it was due.
- The result? A close loss to a major competitor, and the PM resigned without notice.
Failed team, Failed Proposal
What happened? Let’s take a look.
- Management Support. Does it make sense to turn over a major opportunity to a new staff member? Probably not. And, when the SME engagement failed, shifting leadership to a team of consultants provided little in the way of support to the PM role.
- Structure. Outside of the reporting structure between the PM and VP, there was little structure to the group working on content. The PM made assignments to individual SMEs, but there was no management oversight outside of the Development team. No oversight, no accountability.
- Role Definition. When working with SMEs who have day-to-day responsibilities, it is essential to clarify their roles on the team. Assigning sections to them needs to take into account what other responsibilities they have and the extent to which they can and have time to do the proposal.
- Communication. It was actually a wake-up call, not a kick-off call. The lack of questions, discussion, or comments indicated that people on the line were not engaged, not that the presentation was so good no one needed additional information.
- Intervention. Both harsh and untimely, the intervention was also expensive and unsuccessful. Removing responsibility for the entire proposal left the PM feeling sabotaged, and the proposal at the mercy of consultants without a background in the opportunity.
Finding the Holy Grail
Major proposals are not for the purpose of testing staff. Groups of people without buy-in or direction are not teams. Many companies lack the time and resources for advance team-building and need a way to create “just-in-time teams” that work well together. While that is not easy, it is not impossible. With the right oversight, structure, and support, people can come together quickly and perform effectively.
We can help
Strategy Horizon consultants have experience with all aspects of proposal management, including facilitating high performing teams. We are ready to help your team win.
Want to Do it Yourself?
We recommend the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) membership, certification, and Body of Knowledge. APMP can provide the know-how – and your company can provide the leadership to bring it all together.
Learn more about APMP here: www.apmp.com