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Scandinavian Airlines on Redefining Organizational Structures for Peak Innovation

Daniel Engberg, the head of AI, Data, and Platforms at Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), presents innovative strategies for creating a dynamic, collaborative, and effective organization. Between his work at SAS and his prior experience in strategy consulting at Accenture, Engberg is adept at overcoming the challenges posed by traditional organizational structures. At SAS, Engberg is dedicated to breaking down siloed structures and fostering a collaborative, cross-functional, data mesh-like approach that resonates with the dynamic needs of the modern business world.

Here are four strategies from Engberg on transforming organizational structures to foster peak innovation and agility.

1. Embrace Cross-Functional Collaboration

Traditional siloed structures, where departments operate in isolation, limit the ability to adapt and innovate in today’s fast-paced environment. Cross-functional collaboration removes these barriers by breaking down silos, fostering a culture of teamwork and shared objectives across the organization. This approach brings together diverse perspectives and encourages innovation, allowing teams to address complex problems more efficiently and with greater creativity.

By combining skills from various departments, teams become more effective in tackling challenges. For instance, during the pandemic, Scandinavian Airlines formed a cross-functional team to gather people from various parts of the organization (finance, data engineers, software developers, data scientists, robotic process automation (RPA) developers, and others.) to work together and solve a common goal: confront the unprecedented challenges faced by the airline during the pandemic. Remarkably, this team achieved their goals in days, a process that under conventional methods might have taken months. This example highlights the potential of cross-functional teams to speed up project timelines and significantly improve the organization’s adaptability to change.

2. Decentralize Competencies Without Chaos

Decentralizing competencies is a key component of cross-functional collaboration. However, it’s crucial to maintain a balanced and flexible organizational structure to prevent chaos. This involves carefully planning the distribution of roles and responsibilities, as well as setting clear goals for each team that align with the organization’s broader objectives, ensuring a cohesive approach to innovation and problem-solving.

To sidestep the chaos typically associated with decentralization, organizations must strategically distribute skills across teams. By establishing well-coordinated cross-functional teams that balance autonomy with structured governance, organizations can promote innovation while preserving order. Organizations should form teams united by shared purposes and objectives and strive to find a balance between granting teams the freedom to innovate and ensuring their actions align with the organization’s overarching goals.

Incorporating AI, data, and platform experts into these teams ensures they are equipped to tackle specific challenges in alignment with the company’s strategic direction. This approach allows team members to collaborate effectively, leveraging their specialized skills to quickly fulfill project goals.

3. Support Career Development

A company matrix structure, like that employed by Scandinavian Airlines, is characterized by employees reporting to multiple managers and engaging with various teams. This structure tends to obscure traditional career paths, creating hurdles for both personal development and managerial effectiveness. This can make providing clear career paths and development opportunities challenging.

Organizations can address this by providing dual career tracks that allow employees to advance in their specialization while gaining cross-functional experience. This approach enables employees to deepen their specialization while gaining experience in cross-functional initiatives. Additionally, organizations should have competency leads in place to mentor and guide team members. This guidance for talent development helps employees fulfill their personal aspirations while also ensuring their efforts contribute to the organizational mission.

4. Empower Teams with Data Governance

Data governance presents a significant obstacle in traditional organizations. Engberg advocates for a model that places data governance as close to the product teams as possible, empowering those directly involved with data to make informed decisions. This strategy seeks to make decision-making more efficient and ensures that governance supports, rather than hinders, innovation. 

This approach assigns data governance responsibilities to those who deal with data on a daily basis, facilitating more precise and informed decision-making. By shifting data governance closer to those who work with the data daily, organizations can create a data management strategy that is both agile and responsive, without the delays associated with centralized governance processes. Empowering product teams to manage their data accelerates decision-making and fosters a culture of responsible data stewardship.

To support this decentralized governance model, teams must be equipped with the necessary tools, guidelines, and frameworks to make decisions that align with both the organization’s goals and regulatory requirements. Additionally, teams must have clear operational boundaries to ensure that product teams operate within an overarching structure that safeguards the organization’s data integrity and security.

This approach requires organizations to balance the benefits of decentralized decision-making with the need for overarching control and standardization. By providing product teams with the autonomy to govern their data within a well-defined framework, organizations can cultivate a collaborative environment where data governance is a shared responsibility, enhancing the strategic use of data across the organization.


Daniel Engberg’s strategies from his work at Scandinavian Airlines provide a practical framework for organizational change. His methods, which include promoting cross-functional collaboration, decentralizing competencies, supporting career growth within a matrix structure, encouraging clear communication for change management, and modernizing data governance, have demonstrated success in enhancing SAS’s operational agility and responsiveness to market demands. These practices are valuable for any organization looking to navigate the challenges of a rapidly evolving business landscape effectively.


Engberg’s work with SAS also highlights how traditional organizations can evolve to meet contemporary challenges. By prioritizing flexibility, fostering a culture of teamwork, and adopting a strategic stance on digital transformation, companies can drive growth and innovation. Engberg’s strategies emphasize the importance of a clear company vision, employee empowerment, and flexible operational strategies for long-term resilience and success. This guidance offers organizations a path to not only achieve immediate operational improvements but also lays the groundwork for continuous innovation.

Learn More about Data Mesh

To learn more about Engberg’s approaches for building collaborative and agile enterprise-wide data organizations, check out this episode of Data Mesh Radio. For more information about how organizations are leveraging data mesh, check out this list of user journey stories.

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