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ASCM Insights

Blocks and Beams: The Foundation For Superior Talent, Strategy and Trust


The networks that comprise today’s supply chains are reflections of stakeholder interests and the challenges being faced. Accomplishing the work of supply chains consistently — and while balancing service levels, costs and asset streams — involves a lot of moving parts. Increasingly, success depends on the development and engagement of strategic teams that are designed for action, focused on results and built upon trust.

The many challenges of supply chain management have technical, market and economic roots. They shape forward planning, decision-making practices and criteria, and the ways in which risk management and problem-solving are factored across enterprise management. They also influence economic and strategic value-added processes, as well as the comparative advantage of suppliers, customers and partner organizations.

Strategic teams are an essential force for building and sustaining the gains that accrue within and across supply chain systems and networks. Consider first the importance of collaboration — people working together with high levels of preparedness, capacity, resilience and knowledge sharing. This facilitates value generation for stakeholders and supports the evolution of supply chain systems. Likewise, the power of engagement via people operating with a common purpose and strategic intent is essential to achieving near- and long-term goals. Lastly, adaptable strategic teams that enable people to approach their work with a dynamic sense of need, impact and perspective make it possible to navigate zones of conflict and cooperation alike.


The most familiar indicators of supply chain performance and value have been geared toward service levels, costs-in-stream, lean and process metrics.

These metrics bring attention to the functional side of the supply chain operation and serve as essential needles on organizational performance gauges. They work well for assessing operational throughput and capacity. However, there is an assortment of indicators connected to the intangibles of supply chain management. These hidden measures evaluate comparative advantage for near- and long-term intentions, goals, challenges and transformation; supply chain talent; and various cultural factors such as thought and behavior.

Hidden measures are sometimes considered in standard planning cycles, meetings, C-level reviews and other typical management system formats. More often, they are addressed in the context of the softer side of organization reviews. Without a framework for enterprise development, that is where they will remain — interesting, but constrained.


While most larger organizations have definitive supply chain professional development tracks built around standard functions, fewer have a talent-specific development framework. Talent blocks and beams help supply chain leaders and managers get the right people in the right roles, with the right acumen; capacity; and opportunity for professional development, growth, contentment and change. Most importantly, they provide a framework for fine-tuning and maximizing those hidden measures that can really mean the difference between supply chain success and failure.

A team is a lot like a building: It needs a sturdy structure in place to weather all manner of conditions. Without that structure, teams will be incapable of adapting and expanding as the needs of the enterprise evolve. The blocks-and-beams approach is designed to help supply chain professionals think in terms of the foundational competencies (blocks) each team member brings to the mix and the professional and personal strengths (beams) they have to provide structure and carry weight.

There are six areas of capability and experience that people possess, spanning all relevant areas of business expertise. These include a range of both hard and soft competencies that are important across the organization:

  • Technical capacity provides specific subject matter expertise to general supply chain tasks and challenges.
  • Creative capacity brings to the table new, often breakout ideas for consideration and development.
  • Analytic capacity adds data resources and pattern sense to supply chain planning and decision-making.
  • Resource capacity contributes a critical supply chain sense to the use of time, money, space, flow and asset appropriation.
  • Solution capacity powers supply chain option/decision assessment, issue reconciliation, problem mitigation and recovery.
  • Relational capacity connects people, groups and issues with the power to spread supply chain influence and learning.

Surrounding the talent blocks are a number of talent beams that support individual and team development. The individual and collective beams are two essential support elements, guiding engagement, integration and performance. Another set of talent beams supports professional and career track development. These are defined by credentials, experience and functional knowledge, as well as the capacity for leadership and management.

All in force, these talent blocks and beams reflect the basic DNA for supply chain management success and competitive advantage.

Talent Blocks and Beams for Supply Chain Teams


Supply chain management connects demand and supply activity and value with systems, people, ideas and methods. Entire business models are predicated on supply chain functions and networks. Strategic teams represent the answers to the questions that are so often at the heart of the enterprise and on the forefront of enterprise planning, decision-making, risk management, problem solving and value creation.

Designing and deploying excellent strategic teams is the key to readiness in

  • functional depth and strength in supply chain management through building, using, improving and growing the organization’s capacity for excellence and operational impact
  • cross-functional scope and range via sharing, extending, connecting and enhancing supply chain interfaces within and beyond operational borders
  • trans-enterprise reach and power by blending, mixing, sparking and changing the value stream of the enterprise, as well as shifting margins and asset relationships.

Furthermore, the natural forces of change in the marketplace and supply chain organizations have informed the structure and relationship of work to be done, along with approaches that address three significant concerns. They include the following:

1. The full engagement of individuals and teams as part of the organization’s strategic agenda, the comprehensive roadmap for enterprise growth, performance and change

2. The effective arrangement of talent in key areas of responsibility by specific competencies, motivation and connections; talent prescribed and matched in terms of experience, knowledge, judgment and perspective; and overall human capital dispatched as talent blocks and beams with effective leadership at every level of the organization

3. The advancement of the organization’s cultural agenda as both an expression of, and a foundation for, moving the everyday thought and behavior of supply chain teams.

Strategic teams built on talent blocks and beams are more collaborative and prospective in the execution of the work to be done, which also enables them to be more adaptive and agile in their formation and deployment. Plus, such teams are better equipped to address cross-functional and cross-enterprise challenges, such as the ongoing evolution of supply chain technology, operational interfaces and economic value streams.


Organizations compete based on product and service differentiation, capacity management, revenue leverage, scope, scale, and resource usage. Without exception, supply chain management competence and maturity in strategic teams are part of the equation. In fact, by approaching supply chain management with a sense of the natural goals of business, it becomes possible to view everyday thought, behavior, practice and culture as foundations for taking care of customers, economic performance, enterprise stewardship and competitive advantage.

Perhaps most importantly, when strategic teams approach supply chain management with an appreciation for what the marketplace expects of preferred suppliers and partners, they benefit from having a crystal-clear picture of the customer experience. Are we easy to do business with? Are we consistent and predictable? Are we admirable business colleagues and partners? Are we credible and trustworthy? Answering these questions in the affirmative puts any supply chain organization in a strong position to succeed and thrive.

Types of Strategic Teams

When deployed to address the frontiers of automation, systems integration, collaboration and compliance, strategic teams are effective working assets. They can address targeted problems or special situations; bridge a specific pathway of transition in the functional processes of supply chain management; or manage functions, models, roles and interfaces.

Some of the most common teams in supply chain management organizations include the following:

  • Workout teams deal with operating and resource management problems. The typical workout process is focused on problem mitigation, resolution and recovery. Workout teams are often deployed in situations that require significant fixes and forward recovery plans.
  • Insight teams generate and analyze data, perspectives, challenges, prospects and scenario parameters. They might be assigned to explore technical, market and operating trends; or they might be chartered to develop and maintain forward business scenario models.
  • Tiger teams are dispatched to deal with quick responses to recurring or highacuity problems that block performance. They deploy, reset operations and withdraw rapidly.
  • Platform teams support the core planning and development work that surrounds new functional and operating models for the enterprise.

Two things are noteworthy here: First, different kinds of strategic teams are designed to extend beyond the normal structural lines of the organization in order to address specific challenges and objectives. This is the new structure for making strategy happen. Second, they serve in different project management roles, becoming catalysts to everything that counts in supply chain management.

About the Author

Daniel Wolf President, Dewar Sloan

Daniel Wolf is president of Dewar Sloan, a consulting group with expertise in strategy and governance. He also served at the operating group level of two Fortune 500 companies, with management roles in product development, marketing systems, channel, resource and supply chain planning, corporate development, and group operations. Wolf may be contacted at

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