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weLEAD Book Review by the Editor of leadingtoday.org,
This review is from: Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership (Jossey-Bass Business & Management) (Paperback)
Reframing Organizations is considered by many to be a modern masterpiece. Today it is used as a class textbook by some major universities in their management and leadership classes. Bolman & Deal encourage leaders to step back and re-examine the operation of their organization through the use of various frames or windows. These different lenses can bring organizational life into a different or clearer focus. They allow the leader to view the workplace from different images to make judgments, gather information and get things done. The authors label four windows and name them the structural, human resource, political and symbolic frames. The purpose of the book is to examine the elements and advantages of the four frames presented by Bolman & Deal. The end result is that we learn the importance of stepping back and looking at a situation from more than a single pane of glass. This is vitally important because most of us have the tendency to look at situations or problems from a limited narrow perspective, and this hinders our ability to be effective and visionary leaders.
The Structural Frame attempts to look at the social context of work and not simply at the individual. Once an organization designates specific roles for employees, the next decision is to form or group them into working units. Coordination and control of these various groups are achieved either vertically or laterally. The best structure depends on the organization's environment, goals and strategies. Bolman & Deal list six assumptions behind the Structural Frame. 1) Organizations exist to achieve established goals and objectives. 2) Organizations work best when rationality prevails over personal preferences and external pressures. 3) Structures must be designed to fit organizational circumstances. 4) Organizations increase efficiency and enhance performance through specialization and division of labor. 5) Appropriate forms of coordination and control are essential to ensuring that individuals and units work together in the service of organizational goals. 6) Problems and performance gaps arise from structural deficiencies and can be remedied through restructuring.
The Human Resource Frame is another window to bring an organization into a unique focus. It views an organization like a large extended family. From this perspective, an organization is inhabited by individuals. These individuals have needs, prejudices, feelings, limitations and skills. The goal of the leader is to mold the organization to meet the needs of its people. The leader will seek to merge the peoples' need to feel good about what they are doing with the ability to effectively get the job done. Bolman & Deal state that the key to this window is a "sensitive understanding of people and their symbiotic relationship with organizations."
The Political Frame is a window that looks at the workplace as a jungle. This may not sound pretty but the reality is that "it is a jungle out there". It is a competitive environment or contest in which different people compete for power and limited resources. Reframing Organizations recognizes the work environment is one of rampant conflict immersed in negotiation, bargaining, compromise and coercion. Bolman & Deal offer five propositions as a summary of this frame. 1) Organizations are coalitions of various individuals and interest groups. 2) There are enduring differences among coalition members in values, beliefs, information, interests, and perceptions of reality. 3) Most important decisions involve the allocation of scarce resources and what gets done. 4) Scarce resources and enduring differences give conflict a central role in organizational dynamics and typically make power the most important resource. 5) Goals and decisions emerge from bargaining, negotiation, and jockeying for position among different stakeholders. Unfortunately, this is truly the business and social world most of us live in.
The Symbolic Frame is a powerful window that builds on cultural and social anthropology. It views organizations as carnivals, theaters or tribes. An organization is a unique culture driven by stories, ceremonies, rituals and heroes. This is in contrast to an organization being driven by rules, authority or policies. The organization is analogous to a theater. With this theater, various actors play their respective roles in the drama and the audience forms its own impressions of what is seen on the stage. The Symbolic Frame also looks at team building in a different light. It views the development of high-performing teams as a spiritual network also enhanced by rituals, ceremonies and myths. One does not need to look far to discover these symbols. They exist from the proverbial "corner office", to corporate seals, to the camaraderie of military units.
The four windows or frames presented by Bolman & Deal allow a leader to see events in new ways and to shift perspective. The use of the multiple frames can assist the leader to see and understand more broadly the problems and potential solutions available. It encourages the leader to think flexibly about their organization and opens various opportunities to the leader to view events from multiple angles. Reframing Organizations is the kind of book that forces you to view organizational life from a different viewpoint and new reality.