Four Principles of Small Business Teaming

As a small professional services company, Zekiah is constantly evaluating opportunities and making decisions about how to approach and/or respond to those opportunities. One of the most important decisions that can be made as part of the bid/no-bid process is teaming. For small businesses, teaming can be the life blood of business development and building a good team can be the difference between a win and a loss. What follows are four principles regarding teaming that have served me well during the course of my career:

  1. Be open to teaming – It is very tempting to look at a procurement and say “we can do this ourselves.” A healthy organization with good leadership, however, is aware of both its strengths and its weaknesses. No organization is equally strong in all its capability areas and teaming can be a good way to mitigate weak spots. By acknowledging the strengths of other companies, a stronger response to a procurement and better value for the end customer can be achieved. Additionally, stronger alliances for future procurements can result.
  2. Overlap is good – A common approach to teaming is to identify a gap in your own capabilities as they relate to the requirements of the procurement and seek to plug that gap with a team member who possesses that capability but otherwise does not overlap with your core strengths. Another approach is to craft a narrowly-worded teaming agreement that walls the team member off from support that you want to provide to the customer. These approaches can often be shortsighted.One of the common misconceptions of large businesses is that they have the proverbial “deep bench” from which to drawn new talent. In practice, this is rarely true because large companies carefully manage their overhead and are loath to carry unbillable technical staff in speculation of new work. Where they tend to have more flexibility is in their ability to strategically float staff in order to retain them for a procurement that is already in the pipeline. But, in general, the “deep bench” is myth that most large companies happily perpetuate.Small businesses can mitigate the perception that they lack a deep bench by teaming with companies that have overlapping capabilities. Once a contract is in place, opportunities may arise that require talent to be made available quickly. This can sometimes be difficult as in the case of the current market for software developers. In the experience of my company and several others that I know, positions for software developers are currently very hard to fill. It can be hard to quickly provide good talent for a new requirement if you wait for the entire hiring process to play out.

    In these situations, having team members with similar capabilities and understanding can be beneficial. Perhaps, due to their own internal tasking cycles, they may have in-house talent to provide. I have had this type of situation work out numerous times. The end results are usually a happier end customer and a stronger working relationship with a team member.

  3. Offer something concrete – Teaming agreements and the subsequent subcontracts that result from them form the basis for the relationship between team members for the life of a contract. How you approach the teaming agreement will set the tone for the length of the effort. If you are assembling a team as a prime, the workshare you offer a team member should be as concrete as possible. Offer right of first refusal for work related to specific requirements, define slots for team member staff or take similar steps to demonstrate to your team member that you are committed to making the procurement, and their support of the proposal effort, worth it to them.This is not to say that you shouldn’t qualify the offers in reasonable ways. If a contract may not be fully funded at the outset, it is reasonable to make customer funding a trigger for team member support. Additionally, contracts such as small-business set-asides may require the prime contractor perform the majority of the work in order to be compliant. In these cases, such requirements should be spelled out so that the team member can make a proper risk assessment in deciding whether or not to participate.The situation that most small businesses dislike more that anything else is providing support and past performance to a proposal effort only to never see any work out of the prime. By offering something concrete, you build trust with your team members which can enable better support for your customers and also move you to the front of the line as your teammate builds their own teams for other procurements.
  4. Leave your emotions at the door – The primary responsibility of any business, large or small, is to remain a viable business. Your staff made a commitment to you to bring their talents into your business. In return, you have a responsibility that your business is a viable place for them to ply their craft, grow their careers, and support their families. This is true for any business, or it should be. As a result, each business will evaluate an opportunity based on its own factors. This will mean that companies with which you have worked well in the past may opt to join another team or prime their own team in competition with you or even form a team and choose not to invite you.For any of a number of reasons, a valued partner may choose a different direction on a given procurement. In these cases, it is important to remember the old adage that “it’s just business.” It is important not to get emotional in such situations. First, it is unprofessional to do so. Second, it could jeopardize a relationship for a future opportunity. Third, it puts your reputation at risk. There is simply more to be lost than gained from reacting emotionally to the business decisions of another company.A while back, I had a conversation with the owner of a company that was leading a team responding to an RFP from a Federal agency. The incumbent company on the effort was formidable and knocking them off was long shot. The incumbent was also a company that we had competed against on other procurements, with mixed results. My prime observed that there must be a lot of bad blood between my company and the incumbent. I think my response surprised him.

    I told him that nothing was could be further from the truth. I knew the owners of the incumbent and several members of their technical staff. They were smart and did good work, which is why their customers liked them. They also happened to do a lot of the same kinds of things as us so it was natural that we would often be going after the same opportunities. My job as a business owner is to put my own best foot forward and win the job based on the superiority of my approach and my track record. If another company wins, then I didn’t do my job and there is no animosity to be had for the other company. What’s worse, I could cut off a potentially valuable future teaming arrangement by allowing emotion to get the better of me.

These four principles have served me well, especially the first and the last. A good team can mean a strong proposal which can have a better chance of winning. More than that, a good team can lead to the kind of strong relationships that are crucial to success. By teaming, you are networking your company and doing it well can pay dividends well into the future.

This post was written by:

Bill Dollins

Senior Vice President

For more information on this post, or to explore teaming with Zekiah, feel free to email us at