And perhaps this is even more true now as many organisations have had to trim units and functions during the current crisis. This makes it even more critical to have knowledge and skills shared across the organisation instead of in closed-off units.

Unfortunately, we often forget the final design criteria on cooperation when it comes to defining our KPIs. Focus then shifts from cooperation to benchmarks and internal areas of responsibility.

In our dialogues with private companies and public organisations, we often hear statements on circumstances that impede cooperation:

  • “We are never rewarded for our cross-functional work, so we have to focus on our own targets”
  • “We are the experts within our own area. So it doesn’t make sense for others to get involved”
  • “No-one has an overview of the entire delivery process. It is therefore better to focus on your own domain”

These statements are symptomatic of organisations characterised by a silo mindset and behaviour, which results in inefficiency, dissatisfied customers and employees and a lacking ability to develop as a unified organisation. Systems and processes should support cooperation, and they can do this more effectively when they are complemented by a mindset and culture that promote cross-functional cooperation.

It is not an easy task to create this framework, but the benefits are many. In our experience, mindset and company culture are crucial factors among many others when it comes to establishing cooperation across the organisation.

How to create a culture of cooperation

There are a number of conditions that need to be in place in order to pull culture and mindset in the right direction.

  1. Focus on openness and curiosity. Executives and employees should be curious and willing to challenge each other on their areas of responsibility and tasks. There should be openness and a clear willingness to invite others to take part in your field of expertise and areas of responsibility so that new ideas or new ways of working can be tried out together. It is a crucial condition that should be reflected in e.g. organisations’ recruitment and retention policies but also as a fundamental principle for holding cross-functional meetings. In other words, focus should not be on what your individual employee is able to offer but rather on what your employees can offer together and as an organisational whole.
  2. Create professional and deliverable dependencies. These dependencies should be reflected in your organisational structure to ensure that products and services of the right quality can only be delivered in a cooperation across units and areas of expertise. This means that you should look for ways to maximise interaction across the organisation. A good example of structures that create relevant and meaningful interaction is the set-up of process management structures, in which managers and key employees meet across organisational units to continuously optimise and improve processes and deliverables.
    Autonomy and self-governance are concepts very much in focus in recent years, but it is important to take a close look at your organisation to determine whether self-governing units or cross-functional cooperation will add the most value to your organisation.
  3. Implement incentive models that reward cross-functional cooperation instead of organisational dependencies. Get rid of incentives for results created in organisational silos, often at the cost of the shared goals and priorities of the organisation. In our own organisation, we have chosen to move from KPIs rewarding sales and invoicing within individual service areas to cross-functional targets related to the overall customer satisfaction. We have done this to stimulate the cross-functional cooperation on sales and market efforts.

We hope that the above makes it clear that it is by no means an easy task to create a successful organisation with cross-functional cooperation. It takes time and persistent management focus, and it takes systems and processes that are supported by mindset and culture. However, our experience shows that the above three conditions will enable you to quickly realise the first positive results in your culture and behaviour.