Even on the best proposal teams, conflicts occur. A proposal group is a tight-knit family of professionals working closely together under tight deadlines. In such a pressure cooker environment, tempers will flare, and arguments will happen. Especially given that many proposal teams collaborate remotely via Teams, Zoom, and email, where some, if not all non-verbal communication, facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, and voice inflection are lost. No matter how professional the members of a proposal team are, they are also still human.
Dealing with conflict on a proposal team can make the difference between a winning and losing proposal even when everyone is, ostensibly, setting aside their personal differences and working together. Read on for some ideas proposal managers and individual contributors can use for managing and preventing proposal team conflict.
1. Start at the Beginning.
When an “all hands-on deck” pressure cooker RFP rolls in, immediately agree on who will contribute what to the proposal according to their strengths and availability. Proposal team members tend to be “jacks of all trades.” All of us can manage, write, design graphics, research, etc. proposals well. However, each team member is also probably better at one aspect of proposal development than the others. For your big proposals where every department member will have to contribute to the final product, assign your best people to do what they do best. Don’t make a great proposal team manager write content, or your best proposal graphics person manage the overall proposal.
2. Create a Flexible Schedule with Milestones and Deliverables for All Team Members.
This may seem like a no-brainer. Proposal best practice is to create a matrix with a proposal schedule before the initial kick off meeting and finalize it during that meeting. The problem occurs when a proposal is extended. Invariably when a proposal deadline is extended, other RFPs arrive in house with deadlines ahead of the extension. Work on the bid that was just extended is put to the back burner to meet those other deadlines. By adding flexibility, or a “what-if” to your proposal schedule, you can ensure work progresses on every bid currently in house without overloading proposal team members.
3. Agree to Follow a Single Leader.
Make a single person in charge of finalizing all proposal decisions. Whatever this person says for this proposal goes, period. When conflict arises between proposal team members on how something should be done, this single leader decides what will be done. Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but in the 11th hour of a multi-million-dollar proposal, the concept can be lost.
4. Agree to Disagree Until After the Bid is Submitted.
Even with a single leader finalizing all proposal decisions, conflicts can still arise during a high value proposal submission. Agree that when this happens everyone will set aside their personal differences, agree to disagree, and work together until the proposal is published. Schedule a “post-mortem” meeting as part of your proposal schedule so that during the proposal process, team members know they will have a chance to be heard.
5. Push Each Other to Take Downtime.
There is a real tendency when a large bid is going out the door to want to grind through it. Working from home means most proposal team members are never more than a few steps away from their job. Grinding through a proposal or never shutting your laptop down – or worse, as I recently discovered, having access to email, zoom and one drive on your phone – leads to burnout, which leads to short tempers, which leads to fights among proposal team members. As a team, remind each other periodically to step away from the computer, or to not answer phone calls during certain hours. If you are afraid of not being available during when something critical is needed, make your fellow team members promise to call you if that happens, or send a note via email in advance saying “I’m stepping away from my desk to…go to the loo, get lunch, etc…”
By following these simple steps, you can reduce conflict and increase proposal team productivity during your biggest, most stressful proposals.
Cristina M. Miller, CP APMP, is a writer and proposal strategist typically found with a cup of coffee in one hand and a dog-eared RFP in the other. She manages bids for mid-to-large sized businesses and lives in New England with her husband, son and two (former) rescue dogs.