Four Formidable Frames

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (1991). Reframing organizations: artistry, choice, and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


In Reframing Organizations by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (1991), they use four common organizational frames – Human Resource, Political, Symbolic and Structural – to explain how to effectively organize, operate, utilize and change organizations and their work teams. The human resource frame explains how the feelings of individuals, teamwork relations, tailored skills, and work reflection assist an organization and its employees through human interaction and emotional development. The political frame describes the contest, conflict, negotiation, coercion, compromise, and a vie for power within individuals and institutions. The symbolic frame depicts the creativity, cultural, vibrant, social, and ceremonial aspects of leaders within organizations. The structural frame show us that standardization, supervision, hierarchy, stabilized environments, coordination, and organization can be extremely beneficial to the success or demise of an institution.

The frame work concept relies on these four frames to help explain why some businesses fail while others succeed. The same applies for the teams that manage these organizations. Bolman and Deal guide the reader through real world examples pointing out the chinks in many organizations structure. They then use these frames to illustrate how companies can better adapt and promote success in different institutions through using not just one frame independently, but by acting as a multiframe institution where all four frames are being used in many different facets.

At the end of the book, The authors provide a case study analysis of a new principal at ‘Richmond’ high school. They show a dysfunctional school system and decisions that were made over a several year period. Bolman and Deal (1991) then break apart the high school case study and explain how the different frames were used or could be used to assist in developing the high school further.

Validity (Strengths and Critiques):

When it comes to the data, the authors focus mainly on the implications of previous institutions successes and downfalls. Bolman and Deal (1991) use examples from a variety of professional fields from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to Mcdonalds, and from Harvard University to the FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina. The authors rely little on abstract thoughts as they use real world examples to show the use of their organizational frames. The data also does not look at organizations as isolated beings, but as players in the same arena. This allows for a better understanding about the complexities of major business industries and allows for a better application of their ideas into common workplaces. However, it is important to point out that Bolman and Deal seperate the public and private sectors in their analysis as they believe each model interacts and deals with in a different type of organization manor. Bolman and Deal (1991) also acknowledge that specific people can often be the demise or saving grace of an organization to to their mastery or “artistry” of the individual (p.220).

The organization of the book is excellent. There is an introduction to the book and framing concept, a reflection on the information and examples used to support the concept, and then very detailed chapters that provide an in-depth look at each frame and how specific examples have used or not used that particular frame. The authors wrap everything up with a look at multiframe uses, ethics and the influence of external factors on all organization.

I believe that this concept is imperative to the education body of organizational development. Not only were many diverse examples of companies, schools, and businesses used, but the concept works for both the physical institution and employee development. By providing only four frames, it makes it easy to apply the information to personal situations, and provides an easy tool for evaluating a way to restructure organizations.

Personal Use:

This book, Reframing Organizations, is one of the reasons that I decided to focus on organizational structures in higher education. I seem to be able to see the practical application of their information. It was the first time that I saw how there are so many pieces to an organization that require constant attention and maintenance. It helped me to see that the basic hierarchical structure to an organization is not what makes or breaks a company, but the people, the companies ethics, the use of different talents, and the ability to manage in an ever changing environment. These are all factors that I will now have to consider when looking at organizing a growth plan.

I can use the frame concept as a springboard to develop a growth plan for the College of Medicine – Phoenix. The book gives me many different examples of great ways to help a business succeed or adapt, but nothing specific on developing growth models. However, Bolman and Deal  provide all the tools necessary to create a growth model through their examples and structural frames. For example, I can use this notion to show the importance of proper structure and team development. I can research different policies that have been implemented to make sure they are ethical and fully developed. I can also use the frame theory presented in this book to see if the Academic Affairs  and Student Affairs departments at the College of Medicine – Phoenix currently are using all the frames appropriately. If they are not, I can help to build the new frames into a new growth model. If the frames are being implemented correctly, then I can help build upon them and see the continuation of their development.

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