The Art of Building a World Class Team

It takes more than process and technology to create a vibrant, innovative, integrated supply chain team


  1. Incorporate diversity: Along with cultural diversity, team members should have differing work/life experiences (Harmony of Education, Experience, and Exposure). In addition to members with technical supply chain expertise, the leader should look to include people with liberal arts, psychology, finance, sales, and marketing backgrounds. The resulting mix of reflective thinking, action-oriented, visionary, and inclusive operators will create a balance between institutional knowledge and external, unconstrained points of view within the team. Often, great ideas for one industry are developed by adapting what has already worked for other industries.
  2. Hire for talent: Instead of hiring to fill a need, the leader should select for talent and compatibility with the team. Matching a specific position to a person is short-sighted. The most talented candidates, who also fit well in the team culture, will excel in the long run, despite not having the most relevant work experience.
  3. Position associates for success: Putting the right person in the right role is the key to building and nurturing effective teams. The leader must take an individualized approach to understanding each associate’s strengths/weaknesses and motivations in order to assign him/her the role that will maximize his/her development.

Once the team is built, the leader should ensure the proper social dynamics are present in the team through:

  • Prioritizing: Effective leaders are able to identify the best course of action from a myriad of possibilities. Clearly defining responsibilities & expectations, setting goals, and measuring performance (meaningful metrics) are the means by which the leader communicates the team priorities.
  • Driving performance: The leader should establish the appropriate metrics (quantitative and qualitative) to measure and reward achievements. Good leaders understand the competitive benefits of metrics on driving the right behavior. However, leaders must also foster a culture that operates with respect.
  • Seeking consensus: The leader should encourage open discussion in the decision-making process. There should be an inclusive framework that allows for the consideration of both the quantitative and the qualitative perspectives. This collaborative process often has the beneficial result of converting “maybe” and “no” from reluctant associates to “yes” after they have bought into the decision.

        Real-time feedback: Annual reviews are not the greatest of tools for providing feedback. The leader should use every possible occasion to provide constructive feedback to his/her associates.

  • Personalized talent-building: Every individual responds differently to encouragement and criticism. When developing talent, if we understand that our own siblings have different points of view from us, then it follows that all people have different opinions. A leader should tailor his/her approach to the associate instead of using a one-size-fits-all style. 
  • Conscious innovation: The leader should expect and drive innovation in all of the team’s activities. The key task of the leader is to create a culture of innovation that is not just about ideation but stretches from visioning to value generation. This is a continual journey, not an event.
  • Creative conflict: Establish an environment in which creative conflict is encouraged. When options are limited, it’s amazing how often creative solutions are found. The leader should not only engage constantly in “what ifs” and look to answer improbable questions; he/she should also question business assumptions.
  • Accountability: Most successful leaders are those who lead by example. A good example is just as infectious as a bad example; associates are highly impressionable, particularly around strong leaders.

 ·       Experiential learning: Every journey, however well thought through, has an element of risk. Calculated risk taking should be allowed, and capturing lessons learned to prevent future mistakes should be purposefully practiced.

Purpose

The second component of building a supply chain team is Purpose. Purpose is the glue that binds associates together and drives superior performance. The Purpose must first be defined and then an environment conducive to achieving and sustaining it must be created. Once the Purpose is achieved, the culture should be redefined and adapted to a new purpose.

Defining: In most organizations, a supply chain team is considered a cost center with the primary purpose of minimizing cost by simplifying business processes. However, another less-recognized aspect of supply chain is the development of futuristic capabilities through innovation. These process and strategic innovations enable growth and should be the primary purpose of supply chain, and they are how supply chain adds value to an organization. Process innovation frees the organization from the constrained, sometimes counter-productive focus on reducing finite costs and creates possibilities for expansion. The organizations are constantly striving to transform performance. They also recognize and embrace process innovation as a journey and a worthwhile investment. The inability to focus on innovation creates an environment in which exception management, or firefighting, becomes the primary activity. The secondary purpose of supply chain should be to focus on the most important priorities that drive the business agenda. This is accomplished by asking the question, “What is that we do, today, that needs retiring, refining, or redesigning,” and identifying the key strategic priority and relentlessly focusing on it.

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