It is a known fact that people tend to work harder and more intelligently for the people they like and care about. This is why building a team putting names to faces and faces to names, so to speak, and adding personal spin to make people real and likable on your proposal team goes a long way towards helping the proposal effort.

Any proposal requires a little or, more often, a lot of extra effort from a person extra creativity, extra dedication, extra hours, extra resourcefulness the list goes on. Anything that goes beyond the call of duty requires people to exhibit goodwill, and the fact that we do more for the real people we know and like is programmed in our psyche. Especially if there are no other incentives, such as rewards to winning proposal teams or promotions to new positions on the program that was awarded, generating goodwill through team building is essential.

Here are five simple techniques you can implement in your proposal immediately.

Technique 1. Require the ENTIRE proposal team to be present at the kick-off meeting. This includes ALL the writers and contributors as well as the management. This is one of those non-negotiable things where management has to clear their calendars, and people dedicated to their day jobs on projects have to let their customers know that they have to attend the kick-off. This has to be a factor in your scheduling and budgeting.

Insist that people attend your kick-off meeting in person since the first most important kick-off goal is to make people more willing to do a lot more for the people they like and care about. If a couple of people, no matter how much they try to clear their schedules, cannot participate in your meeting, you will need to plan to do a mini-kick-off session for them later, and also to speak about them in detail at the original kick-off. Prior to the original kick-off, request their resume, their information, or even their photo to show to the team.

If a physical meeting is not feasible, video teleconferencing technology is the next best alternative even if it is as simple as using Skype. Also, don’t rely on just a phone line and emailed presentation. Instead, use collaboration tools, such as NetMeeting, LiveMeeting, and GoToMeeting. This will reduce the likelihood that the attendees will lose track of the progress of your presentation as you flip the slides, and get distracted. Make an extra effort to get remote attendees involved and speaking up, and insist that no one multitasks.

Technique 2. Start your meeting with ice-breaker introductions. Even if some people know each other, there is no better way to get everyone to liven up than asking each attendee to take one minute to answer the following three questions about themselves:

  1. Their name and company
  2. How can they best contribute to this proposal based on their experience
  3. One fact about their lives or themselves they consider unusual, special, or fun.

Answers to the last question transform the atmosphere in the room. People start laughing, they make jokes, they ooh and aah. After everyone has shared their information, they stop being strangers in suits and turn into fellow human beings. You can get really creative with an ice breaker question. For example, you could ask, What are you most proud of in your life? As you invent more ice-breaker questions, an important rule for this exercise is to not ask a question people would lose face or get in trouble for answering. Keep it light and positive.

Technique 3. Explicitly state that proposal is a TEAM EFFORT. Basketball or Football teams have the word TEAM used every day as part of their coaching, and being a team player is emphasized over everything else. Somehow, on many proposals, this message gets lost, and people focus on getting a bunch of individual performers together instead of emphasizing collaboration. It is amazing that many of us spend so much time implying things, beating around the bush, and feeling like heroes, all without ever asking for what we need. Since the goal is team building, state it, and explain what it means. Team effort means clear, open, and honest communication; collaborative decision-making; seeking people’s input; collaborative brainstorming to capitalize on the team’s expertise; collaborative writing; and no pride of authorship.

Technique 4. Prepare in advance and pass around the Contact List to fill in missing data including home numbers, and a field stating Availability During the Proposal. This sets expectations correctly for when someone may be unavailable and therefore when they could be reached ahead of that time. Or, it enables them to show that they are busy working during the day but are committed to donating their evenings and weekends to proposal work. This is especially useful when your proposal effort takes place in the summer, around holidays, or during vacation seasons. This way your team will have a chance to plan their interfaces better. Another useful field is “Time Zone” if you have a team across the country or across the globe.

Technique 5. Feed your proposal team. There is nothing like food that conveys hospitality and caring for people. Proposals do cost a lot of money, but it is baffling that so many companies try to save money on food, while food is by far the smallest budget item in the proposal. As inexpensive as good food is, it goes a surprisingly long way to make people feel welcome and appreciated. There are many ways to avoid paying high catering fees and to feed the whole team a gourmet breakfast at a third of the price that a caterer would charge. Just make sure that you get a small budget pre-approved from the start so that you get reimbursed for the receipts, and then stop by a grocery store to get fruit, and bakery on the way to get bagels, pastries, and real cream for coffee, and you will feed a couple of dozen of people for under forty bucks.

Also, do not bring in the same old tired sandwiches and pizza for lunches that feel like a brick in one’s stomach. For the same price or cheaper, you can get chafing dishes from caterers, which are often advertised as feeding 10 but that can easily feed 15 or 20 and they are WAY healthier and easier on one’s waistline. I also usually ask people whether they are vegetarians, vegans, Kosher, have major food allergies, or have major likes and dislikes. You will be asking people to sacrifice their personal time and energy, so this is the least you can do to make everyone feel welcome and cared for.

There are, of course, more advanced techniques for creating fun and team spirits, such as contests, spot awards, games, and ways to reward individual performance, but these five simple techniques will get you the most mileage. These are the basics without which cohesive proposal teams are difficult to pull off. These techniques don’t cost you much to implement, but their impact lasts longer than the proposal itself and creates better work environments and better companies.

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