The Proposal Bystander Effect

Bystander Effect: A phenomenon in which people fail to offer needed help in emergencies, especially when other people are present in the same setting. Studies of this tendency, initially described in response to well-publicized failures of bystanders to render aid in emergencies, have identified a number of psychological and interpersonal processes that inhibit helping, including misinterpreting other people’s lack of response as an indication that help is not needed, confusion of responsibility, and diffusion of responsibility. (via

Are you having trouble engaging SMEs or struggling to assign tasks to disinterested team members? Are you missing project milestones? Unfortunately, you may be a victim of the proposal bystander effect.

Traits of the Proposal Bystander Effect:

  • Proposal apathy.
  • Minimal engagement from the project team.
  • Little to no attendance at meetings.
  • Stagnant open items lists.
  • Radio silence, even leading up to deadlines.

Tips for Combatting the Proposal Bystander Effect.

For proposal managers and team leaders there is almost nothing more irritating than a lack of engagement from the rest of the team. This is especially evident during tight deadlines. Sometimes this is due to apathy, other times due to unclear communication about the teams’ work capacity.

However, there are several tactics you can try to boost engagement and delegate tasks, including:

  • Ask for volunteers.
      • “We need someone to address section 3 by Wednesday afternoon, do I have any volunteers?”

People like free will. As a result, giving team members a choice allows them to  contribute to the project as their schedule and abilities allow.

  • If asking for volunteers doesn’t work, request responsibility.
      • “Sarah, do you have the time/bandwidth to write copy for section 3 by Wednesday afternoon?”
  • Or, instead of asking an individual, ask a few people and see if someone steps up.
      • “Sarah and Ben, can one of you please draft copy for section 3 by Wednesday afternoon?”

Asking a specific individual or group opens the door for them to clearly communicate their availability. If responsibility is not decided in the moment, do not assume it is assigned.

  • Finally, if no one is raising their hand, don’t be afraid to assign responsibility as a last resort.
      • “Sarah, can you please draft copy for section 3 by Wednesday afternoon?”

This requires you as the Proposal Manager to know your team’s abilities, strengths, and availability. This will prevent overloading anyone or assigning responsibilities that team members cannot complete.

A Symptom, Not the Root Cause.

The proposal bystander effect is only a symptom of greater issues. Routine disorganization, quick turnaround times, and a lack of direct communication can exacerbate the issue and result in “confusion of responsibility, and diffusion of responsibility” (

To truly dispose of the proposal bystander effect, your proposal team, plan, and/or processes may need a complete transformation.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Recommended Blogs to Check Out

Scroll to Top