7 problems with proposal teams…and 5 strategies for high performance

Recently we asked Lisa Pafe, Lohfeld Consulting Group Principal Consultant, to share her thoughts on the five stages of teamwork and how to jump-start team performance…

Proposals require teamwork, yet all too often, proposal teams fail. Increasingly, companies are operating under tighter bid and proposal (B&P) budgets and face more and more competition. You can’t afford to waste time and money leading your proposal team to a loss.

As a proposal or capture manager, you develop the win strategy, win themes, and discriminators; shred, outline, and storyboard the RFP; pick solid teaming partners and issue data calls; and assemble a team of masterminds to architect, write, and review…only to end up with a color team draft that offers a non-compelling or even non-compliant solution. With a proposal draft that does not reflect the winning vision, what happened?

Proposal teams face constraints that may appear to be unmanageable. Top problems include:

  1. Time. Proposal teams are short-term, often hastily assembled, and face enormous time constraints.
  2. Membership. People cycle in and out (writers, solution architects, subject matter experts, reviewers).
  3. Competencies. Team members typically offer diverse levels of understanding of the proposal process and varying competencies and experience.
  4. Participation. Often, some members are remote, working another full-time job, and/or are at best reluctant participants.
  5. Priorities. Team members may consider proposal work low priority and, accordingly, demonstrate a lack of commitment to the team.
  6. Respect. Team members might even show disrespect for the proposal or capture manager who is not their line boss.
  7. Agendas. Proposal teams often include teaming partner companies that have their own agendas.

We can address these problems by applying the best of organizational and group behavior theory.

Five stages of proposal team behavior and five strategies for high performance

Despite the fact that company win rates range from 30-50% overall, recent studies have shown that only 16% of teams are successful in terms of sustained, effective performance.

To better understand team behavior and how to drive proposal teams to high performance and wins, the work of psychologist and educator Bruce Tuckerman is illuminating. All teams experience five stages:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing
  5. Adjourning

Organizational research tells us that three-fifths of team time is taken up by the first two stages – forming and storming. With a 30-day turnaround, that means your proposal team has only a week and a half available to norm and perform. With a 10-day task order turnaround, your chances of performing for a win are even slimmer.

The solution is to advance quickly through the first two stages so the team can norm and perform. Through lessons learned, organizational and group theory, and the school of hard knocks, I’ve developed some strategies to evolve more efficiently to the performing stage and start working on the winning solution:

  • Clarity
  • Communications
  • Coaching
  • Agility
  • Circumvention

Lisa’s next three posts will provide specific tactics to implement these strategies.

What strategies do you use to develop high-performing proposal teams? Send an email to me at BWingate@LohfeldConsulting.com with your suggestions!


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Lohfeld Consulting