Working in silos?

Delivering the keynote address on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, at a function in Accra, former Chief Justice (CJ) Sophia Akuffo advised the youth, as future leaders, to not work in silos in their organisations. 

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What did she mean by advising them to avoid “working in silos?”

Before that, the event was the introduction, or “outdooring” to Ghanaians, of the first batch of a cohort of 20 young men/women selected out of 1,500 applicants to undergo a one-year training in Leadership.

The brainchild of Capt PK Amoabeng (Rtd) of Unique Trust fame, the “PK Amoabeng Scholars Programme” aims at creating a new generation of leaders with a mindset which will change the current negative narrative of African leaders as corrupt, tribalistic, incompetent, greedy and, above all, without integrity.

So what are silos, and what does “working in silos”, as referred to by Justice Sophia Akuffo, mean?

Silos

“Silos are used in agriculture to store fermented feed known as silage, not to be confused with a grain-bin, which is used to store grains.

Silos are commonly used for bulk storage of grain, coal, cement, carbon-black, woodchips, food products and sawdust.” (Wikipedia)

What does “working in silos” mean?

“Working in silos is an organisational condition wherein a team (or group of teams) intentionally insulates itself from other teams or the entire organisation.

The practice typically involves hiding information, not collaborating well or simply doing work misaligned with company goals.” (Wikipedia)

Former Chief Justice Akuffo emphasised the importance of teamwork over individualism if any organisation is to succeed.

She stated that no organisation will succeed if the leader’s vision is not clearly articulated, with secrecy rather being the hallmark of the organisation.

She emphasised that leaders must be open, and selfless, putting the organisation’s interest above all other considerations.

Beyond the advice to eschew working in silos, the former CJ also advised them to avoid “mushroom management!”

Mushroom management

Mushroom management is the management of a company where the communication channels between the employers and the employees do not work effectively, and where employees are 'kept in the dark' by management regarding business decisions that affect their work and employment.

The term 'mushroom management' alludes to the stereotypical view of mushroom cultivation: kept in the dark and fed with cow dung.

Additionally, “mushroom management” is a style of management in which the personnel are not familiar with the ideas or the general state of the company, and are given work without knowing the purpose of this work, in contrast with open-book management.

Mushroom management means that workers' curiosity and self-expression are not supported.

The employees often have no idea what the company's overall situation is, because the leaders tend to make all the decisions on their own, without asking anyone else to give their opinion.” (Wikipedia)

In his submission, Capt Amoabeng (Rtd) said his vision for the “Scholars Programme” was motivated by his desire to change the existing negative narrative of the African leader being a greedy and selfish individual who thinks only of himself, and not of his organisation, country or the continent.

The “PK Amoabeng Foundation” has, therefore, carefully selected the maiden cohort of twenty people from all regions in Ghana.

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The training, which would take one year, would include a week’s introductory military training.

Keynote 

In her keynote address, the former CJ, Sophia Akuffo, told the group that every good organisation must have systems, processes and procedures which must be clearly stated, laid out and known by all.

Perhaps, this resonated with President Obama’s statement on a visit to Ghana in 2009 that, “Africa does not need strong men; it needs strong institutions!”

Unfortunately, in many African organisations, the emphasis is more on strong individuals than on strong institutions.

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This invariably creates a toxic environment in which leaders do as they please in the organisation.

Combining her discussion on the two leadership/Management styles, she advised the group to avoid “working in silos” as well as “mushroom management,” as those lead to organisational dysfunction and self-destruction.

Because subordinates are deliberately kept in the dark and fed on cow dung/manure, they lack roots and soon peter out, leading to the collapse of the organisation.

Relating this to the situation in Ghana, she stated that individual ministries must work as a team in the national interest, and not operate as individual fiefdoms, with each minister jealously guarding his/her territory.

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She exhorted the cohort to demonstrate the traditional leadership qualities of Vision, Loyalty to the organisation, Courage, Selflessness, Knowledge and Humility, among others.

She emphasised the quality of integrity as paramount, as it encapsulates and underpins all the other attributes.

Without integrity, one cannot succeed as a good leader.

Cooperation

In reminding the cohort of the importance of cooperation/communication in Leadership, the CJ referred to the old saying that you do not shine by dimming the light of others.

On the contrary, one shines from the reflection of those one has helped to shine as a leader.

Before introducing the 20 scholars, Ms Elizabeth Dansoa Osei gave a beautiful poetry recital on how the pessimism expressed by Capt Amoabeng’s grandfather and his father about the Ghanaian’s ability to rule himself had galvanised him with the passion to change the narrative into a positive one.

A representative of the Scholars Programme thanked the “PK Amoabeng Foundation” for giving the 20 young men/women a unique opportunity to improve their leadership skills and change the prevailing negative mindset about African leadership into a positive one.

He promised they would live up to expectations. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023’s programme was a success and ended with an interaction by all participants.

For the cohort of twenty selected from 1,500, Sophia Akuffo’s advice to them to not work in silos or indulge in mushroom management was their take-home.
Leadership, lead! Fellow Ghanaians, wake up!

The writer is former CEO of the African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya/Council Chair Family Health University College, Accra.  

E-mail: [email protected]

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