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Building the Dream Team

Tuesday, July 7, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amanda Ellinger Neese, MRA, CRA
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Building the Dream Team: Using self and peer assessment to increase efficiencies in sponsored programs offices


“The ability of a group of people to do remarkable things hinges

on how well those people can pull together as a team.” – Simon Sinek

In 2018, our office went through a radical restructuring. A new Executive Director was hired, two staffers were reassigned, and one staffer chose to retire, leaving a blank slate upon which an entirely new team could be created. The team was given one year to increase both the number of grant submissions and the dollar amount of funds awarded. Over the course of the next year, we successfully:

  • Increased the volume of external grant submissions by 569%--from 16 submissions (FY18) to 53 (FY19) and then to 107 (FY20). 
  • Increased the number of funded proposals from $404,000 in FY18 to $1.29M in FY19 and $1.56M in FY20. As of today, our office is currently managing close to $3M in sponsored awards. 
  • Increased the number of schools and departments engaged in grant-seeking from 11% to 53%. 
  • Produced a proposal Conversion Rate of 88.64% -- currently, only 11.64% of proposals end in a ‘False Start.’

It might surprise you that we were able to accomplish this with three people. So what worked? 

1. Know the knowledge and skills gaps within your team. 

While some might argue that personality and behavioral assessments are over-used during recruitment processes, in the case of our team, both the DISC Assessment as well as the Enneagram were used to determine work and behavioral styles. The result: a team that was intentionally created to address strategic gaps in the office’s areas of weakness.

Our office had a task laid out before us: increase both the number of grant submissions and the dollar amount of funds awarded. In a university setting, these indicators are driven by faculty, who must be engaged in grant-seeking and actively generating research that requires external funding. The work of engagement is uniquely suited to those who fall in the ‘I’ (Influence) quadrant of the DISC model of behavioral style. These individuals are outgoing, people-oriented members of a team who focus on building relationships, interacting with others, and creating excitement around an idea. The Executive Director’s first hire was me—an extrovert and a high ‘I’ on the DISC wheel. 

The team also needed someone who could build internal systems to support grant administration, institute compliance processes, and provide support to faculty with the often tedious work of post-award management. This type of work is well-suited for those who fall in the ‘S’ (Steady) or ‘C’ (Conscientious) quadrants of the DISC model. These team members are most comfortable focusing on data, processes, and compliance. The second addition to the team was a department-level administrator with no prior grants experience, who was hired into the role of Grants Compliance Manager.

2. Use your team’s core values to drive new hires. 

One of our office’s core values is a commitment to exceptional service. When new staff are added to the team, we focus first on candidates who display high levels of emotional intelligence with a service-minded work style. Your team’s core values may be different than ours, but whatever your guiding principles, make sure to consider them as you both develop your current team members and recruit new ones.

3. Be willing to trade experience for behavioral skill sets.

If you ask grant professionals how they came to this line of work, most will say that they just ‘fell into it.’ The skills necessary to do the work can be taught. The skills that are more challenging to develop are those such as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Another overlooked characteristic of solid team members is institutional knowledge. The fact that our Grants Compliance Officer had previously worked as a departmental administrator meant that she was already familiar with the institutional processes and key stakeholders our team needed to drive our goals forward.

What is one thing you can do today to build a stronger team for your own organization? 

Author Bio: Amanda Neese is the Senior Grants Management Specialist for Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. She has over 14 years of experience writing and developing grants, managing sponsored projects, building sponsored programs offices, and leading others through the grants and research processes.

Theme: Team Building

GPC Competency: 03. Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development