• SJ

When the Proposal Team Can't Agree


Something about proposal development seems to stir up conflict. Most likely it's the crushing stress of trying to create a flawless product under a deadline. Throw in some cross-cultural interaction, technology issues, and whatever other work is on your plate, and you have a recipe for at least occasional disagreement.


Know where you sit on the Consensus Continuum

When we train people for technical workshop facilitation, we always talk about our Consensus Continuum. While there's no "right" place to be, it's important to know where your organization sits. Neither extreme is healthy - so if in talking to your counterparts at other organizations, you are find your organizational culture a bit far to one side, consider how to achieve balance between consultative culture (which can become bureaucratic and slow) and efficient culture (which can get dominated by a few voices).


Are you farther toward the "collaborative" side? If so, consider decision making structures that ensure all voices are heard and respected (and how you'll move forward when there isn't a consensus).


If you're more toward the "efficient" side and you like to have a clear decision maker who can keep things moving, make sure you've clearly communicated how that process works and by what means the leader will take into account input from others.


Head off conflicts in advance

Nothing achieves this better than setting clear proposal team roles. Write them down, Share them. Discuss how to divide up work best and make sure everyone is on the same page during a time that's not the middle of a huge proposal.


Another task to prioritize when you're not under pressure is creating a system that helps ensure the whole proposal team understands the structure and requirements of each bid. A great deal of conflict originates from differing understandings of what the donor is asking for, which is often rooted in differing levels of understanding of the solicitation. If your expectation is that everyone reads the solicitation on their own is not working, what are some creative ways to push everyone to fully digest the information?


The 80% Rule

When you're still finding your team stuck in disagreement about a key decision, the 80% rule is one tool to achieve consensus without everyone needing to be in total agreement.


It's really simple: when an idea is on the table, ask the team if they are at least 80% in favor of it. If so, the idea is approved and you move onto the next topic. Another way of saying this is that the perfect can be the enemy of the good: getting from 80% agreement to 100% agreement cuts into valuable time that could be used elsewhere and may result in only inconsequential changes.


I always find it helpful to remember that real world problems are complicated and messy, and the solutions are never going to map out neatly into a logical framework. Knowing that, I am reminded that there is never going to be a solution that's perfectly agreeable to all involved, because there is no perfect solution!


What are some other techniques you use when disagreement stalls the conversation?

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