Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Review: Reframing Organisations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership

By Lee Bolman and Terrance Deal.
Bolman, L.G & Deal, T.E, 2008, Reframing Organisations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership, 4th Edition, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, USA

It is a great book that looks at the need to change your perception of things. It teaches you how to break your mental frames and construct new ones. It mainly talks about organizations, yet the techniques can be useful in personal life.

Although organizations start with a simple idea, they are complex and there is not one direct cause to a problem. People interpret different situations differently because there are different languages, different perspectives (frames), and different alternative ways to reading what is going on and we would be missing the insights each one generates if we do not acknowledge them and try to benefit from them. To be able to deal with situations effectively, we should be able to form sophisticated interpretations of them through looking at them from different perspectives though REFRAMING. It will enable us to generate different insights and discover new layers of meanings that will help us develop comprehensive understanding of the situations.

A frame is defined as a mental model: a set of ideas and assumptions that you carry in your head to help you comprehend and negotiate a particular "territory". It is a coherent set of ideas forming a prism or lens that enable us to see and understand more clearly what goes on from day to day. A good frame makes it easier to know what you are up against and, ultimately, what you can do about it. We use different frames when dealing with friends, parents and managers. Managers who are polite with their boss might be harsh with their subordinates and become very nice and kind when playing with their children!

Bolman and Deal argue that framing involves matching mental maps to circumstances and reframing requires another skill: THE ABILITY TO BREAK FRAMES. They also argue that they have consolidated major schools of organizational thoughts into a comprehensive framework encompassing four perspectives. They introduce those perspectives as four frames: structural, human resource, political and symbolic.

The structural frame describes how to organize and structure teams and groups to get results. It is assumed that organizations are most effective when rationality prevails over subjective perspectives. Metaphorically, the organization is a systematic machine in which the various parts fit together to work smoothly.

The human resource frame looks at how to tailor organizations to satisfy human needs, improve human resources management, and build positive interpersonal and group dynamics. Metaphorically, the organization can be thought of as a family.

The political frame looks at how to deal with power and conflict, build coalitions, have political skills and deal with internal and external politics. Power is one of the central features of this frame. It is assumed that different interests occur naturally within the organization. Metaphorically, the organization can be thought of as a jungle.
The symbolic frame is about how to shape a culture that gives purpose and meaning to work, stage organization drama for internal and external audience, and build team spirit through rituals, ceremonies and stories. It is associated with the culture of the organization. Metaphorically, the organization can be thought of as a theatre or temple.

The four frames are powerful because of their ability to spur imagination and generate new insights and options. But each frame has limits as well strengths and each can be applied well or poorly. The structural frame risks ignoring anything that falls outside logic and written rules. Overreliance on the human resource frame results in romanticizing the relationship between the organization and the employees and ignores the harsh realities of symbols, rules, power and politics. The political frame imprisons people and causes conflicts along the way as any action could be viewed as a threat to one's position. The symbolic frame needs a deep understanding of culture and perceptions; its implementation needs high artistry skills. If wrongly implemented, it could result in embarrassments rather than boosting energy.

The book is written in an enjoyable narrative style. With the examples provided, you will be able to understand and interpret different events at your organizations that you have probably wondered about.

1 comment:

  1. A good write up.... Good to c u writing after a long gap.