The Development Source

Use Collective Knowledge to Solve Proposal Problems

In this week’s Chronicle of Philanthropy (May 3, 2012), there was an interesting article about howUniversity of Virginia employees in fundraising organized a group to address specific job challenges and frustrations.  Many of steps they took could be productively applied to proposal teams within companies.

Companies should encourage proposal professionals to form informal groups to learn from each other and work on shared problems.  This is good for proposal professionals and good for their companies, but it can only work if they are encouraged, respected, and supported, and most importantly, if the results of their deliberations are seriously considered.

Here are the steps you can take to develop collective knowledge from small working groups:

  • Start with a real need, not a top-down mandate from the company.
  • Make sure that you get support from senior management and a sincere commitment to consider reports that the group might issue.  If you do not, meetings will become little more than venting sessions.
  • Expand the group by word-of-mouth and reputation rather than advertising.
  • Be inclusive; invite anyone to join who wants to participate.
  • Make it convenient to meet.  A lunch meeting might be a good start.
  • Emphasize shared goals and problems rather than differences by playing down job titles.
  • Use existing resources, including the company’s people, rooms, and equipment.
  • Report on the results in brief, direct memos.
  • Take small steps to minimize risks.
  • Maintain informal status.  It will encourage a friendly atmosphere and keep expectations modest.

Small, informal working groups addressing common problems are likely to arrive at imaginative and uncommon solutions.  If senior management is not supportive, I would not form these groups because their deliberations will become an exercise in frustration and disappointment. 

However, if senior management is committed to fostering them and seriously considering the reports they issue, small working groups can become very practical and productive informal mini-organizations within a company.  They can benefit individual employees while help companies develop more effective responses to contract opportunities.


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