Four-Frame System View

Source: Reframing Organizations

Reframing Organizations

Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal

Subtitled: The Leadership Kaleidoscope

  1. Reframing is a key idea.
  2. Failure due to lack of imagination.
  3. Frames concept employs usable knowledge.

* Structural
specialized roles
formal relationships
division of labor
rules, policies, procedures, and hierarchies
Problems arise when structure does not fit situation
* Human Resources
extended family
feelings, prejudices, skills, and limitations
tailor org to people
* Political
interests compete for limited resources
conflict is rampant
bargaining, negotiation, coercion, and compromise
Problems arise when power is concentrated in wrong place
or when so broadly dispersed nothing gets done.
* Symbolic
cultural and social anthropology
tribes, theater, or carnivals
cultures on rituals, ceremonies, stories, heroes, myths
org is actors
* Integrating the Four Frames
Multiframe thinking requires movement beyond narrow mechanical thinking.

See Overview Table of Four Frames

Return to Outline
Structural Frame
Specialized tasks, sequential work, close supervision, top down.

  1. Blueprint for pattern of expectations and procedures.
  2. stable environments are hierarchies and rule oriented.
  1. to achieve goals and objectives
  2. rationality prevails over personal and external pressure
  3. designed to fit orgs circumstances.
  4. increase efficiency through specialization & division of labor
  5. forms of coordination and control to insure success
  6. problems solved through restructuring.

1. How to allocate work
knowledge or skill
customers or clients
2. How to coordinate different roles
Combining vertical and lateral power.

As a group, the org decides course of action, this is lateral or horizontal decision making. Once all agree, consensus, then the leader can act in vertical fashion because all have had a stake in its creation. Problems arise in top down situations.


  1. Size and Age
  2. Core Process
  3. Environment
  4. Strategy and Goals
  5. Technology
  6. people


  1. Impulsive
  2. Stagnant
  3. Headless
  4. Environment shifts
  5. Technology Change
  6. Growth of Org
  7. Leadership Change

Zebra pages 77 & 332

  1. Small groups:

one boss is top down
dual authority task oriented
Simple hierarchy is layers
Circle borders on "web inclusion"
All-channel network is the web. Star within the circle.

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Return to Outline
Human Resources Frame
McGregor of MIT helped develop ideas. "Open system," communication of good and bad news, self-managing teams, peer-controlled pay system. This frame regards people's skills, attitudes, energy, commitment. This frame champions idea that orgs can be stimulating, rewarding, and productive. If org concerns itself with it's people's welfare then it will succeed.

  1. Maslow's hierarchy of human needs:

Physiological (oxygen, water, food, comfort)
Safety (safe from attack)
Belongingness and Love
Esteem (to feel value of self)
Self-actualization (to reach one's potential)

  1. Manager's assumptions about people become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you have low expectations you will get low productivity.

If conflicts arise people tend to:

  1. withdraw
  2. become apathetic, passive, indifferent
  3. resist (sabotage, featherbedding, deception)
  4. try to climb hierarchy to better jobs
  5. form groups (unions)
  6. teach children negative things about work

Improving HR Management

  1. David Owen Wales 1771, knitting mills. Stopped child labor, sent them to schools. He cared for his workers by giving clean safe homes. Preschool, child care, and schools. He knew value of human capital.
  2. Invest in People

hire right
Reward well
Provide job security
Promote from within
Train and Educate Dewey: Learn by doing OJT
Share the wealth

  1. Empowerment

Autonomy and Participation
Job Enrichment and Cross-Utilization
Democracy and Egalitarianism

  1. TQM = Total Quality Management
  2. T-Groups: "sensitivity training," participants and researchers quorum after session to discuss observations. Trainers and participants join in groups as a sort of "plenary." Honest feedback is crucial.
  3. Survey workers re motivation, communication, leadership, climate.
  4. OD = Organization Development became product of TQM, T-groups, and Surveys.

Putting it in Action

  1. Interpersonal Dynamics

What is happening?
Why do people behave as they do?
What can I do?

  1. Model I

problem caused by other people
develop private, unilateral diagnose and solution
get other person to change by logic, influence, force
if other resists become defensive
intensify pressure
Result is wasted energy, strained relationship, deterioration in decision-making processes.

  1. Model II

Emphasize common goals & mutual influence
Communicate openly publicly test assumptions
Combine Advocacy with Inquiry

  1. When mangers feel vulnerable, they revert to self-protection.

Personality Tests

  1. Meyers-Briggs
  2. Barbarian's Online Test Page
  1. Groups needed to solve problems

creates informal roles with so many formal roles around
informal rules evolve
develop listening skills
agree on basics
search for commonness
Doubt your infallibility
differences of personalities are a groups responsiblity

  1. Groups create shared vision, Leader steers the ship.

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Return to Outline
Political Frame
Sees orgs as alive screaming arenas. Political Frame appears to be primary determinant of success in certain jobs. p 278
Focus of the political Frame is not on resolution of conflict, but on strategy and tactics.

  1. Orgs are coalitions
  2. differences among coalition members
  3. scarce resources
  4. scarce resources and differences = conflict
  5. bargaining, negotiating, jockeying
  6. POWER

PF Insists Orgs are Coalitions

  1. Org should clear and consistent goal(s)
  2. established by person with authority
  3. articulate between structural and political.

result can be confusing with multiplicity of goals
many in conflict

  1. Authority is just one power
  2. recognizes people
  3. recognizes resources
  4. forces groups to articulate need and to mobilize
  5. produces reality
  6. players = authority + partisans
  7. to those with info and expertise
  8. who does rewarding has power
  9. coersive
  10. alliances and networks
  11. Access and control of agendas
  12. Control of meaning and symbols
  13. Personal power


  1. not a problem as much as something is amiss
  2. not to be resolved as much as to form strategy and tactic
  3. has benefits and costs
  4. natural and inevitable
  5. challenges status quo
  6. encourages new ideas and approaches
  7. Horizontal: between groups, depts
  8. Vertical: between levels
  9. Cultural: groups with diff values, traditions, beliefs. Imported


  1. Managers should be "constructive" politicians.
  2. political frame offers different perspectives

Skills of Political Manager

  1. Set Agendas

sets goals and schedules
statements of interests and direction
provide a vision and strategy for achieving vision
provide direction while tending to needs of stakeholders
while gathering plant too.
a vision without a strategy is an illusion
not automatic
find order amid chaos
move with speed and focus

  1. Mapping the Political Terrain

know where explosives are
channels of informal communications
id principal agents of influence
possibility of internal and external mobilization
anticipate strategies of others
draw it up on paper

  1. Networking and Building Coalitions

Id relevant relationships
Assess who might resist, why and how strongly
develop relationships with opponents to facilitate communications
When 3 fails be forceful or subtle
No strategy will work without power base
Find friends, cheerleaders
"horse trading", negotiating

  1. Bargaining and Negotiation

bargaining is central to decision making
Creating Value vs Claiming Value
Creative = be inventive and cooperative for win-win
Claiming = be forceful, to achieve win-lose
Positional bargianing means you start at a place and give concessions
Principled bargaining: emphasizes creating not claiming
1. separate people from problem
2. focus on intersts, not positions
3. invent options for mutual gain
4. insist on objective criteria: standards of fairness

  1. Individuals empower self through understanding
  2. Bureaucrcies leave indiv feeling vulnerable, powerless, helpless
  3. promote empowerment
  4. build support
  5. adversaries are both difficult and interesting
  6. Let them go

tell them your vision
state your best understanding of their position
Id your own contribution
What you plan to do

  1. appeal to higher order: morals, ethics
  2. What is ethical

following rules that are understood and accepted?
comfortable discussing and defending your action?
Would you want someone to do it to you?
What if everyone acted that way?
Are there more ethical ways?

  1. Moral judgement:


  1. conflicts as well as shared interests
  2. Bottom-Up Pol action

civil rights movement

  1. Political Barriers to Control from the Top

Central admin institutes
Workers are surprised, not in process

  1. Lesson is to involve community


  1. Agents of change in larger ecosystem
  2. All orgs have power

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Return to Outline
Symbolic Frame
Organizations reek of symbolism from the edifices they work in to their mascots, colors, and products. That some company names have become words, ie xerox, scotch tape, coke, attest to the power of symbolism.

  1. Meaning, belief, and faith are central to symbolism
  2. not what happened but what it means
  3. how people interpret
  4. life is ambiguous
  5. symbols are created to eliminate confusion, ambiguity
  6. To provide direction, and anchor hope and faith
  7. They form culture tapestry, myths, rituals, ceremonies, and stories.
  8. sees life as more fluid than linear
  9. embody and express culture
  10. symbols help find meaning in chaos, give clarity in confusion, predictability in mystery

myths, fairy tales, stories provide explanations
rituals and ceremonies give heritage
Metaphor, humor, and play loosen up and provide depth to situation.

  1. MYTHS: Provide stories behind the story. They can blind us to new info and learning opportunities. Myths are not authority. They can keep us sane. All orgs rely on myths or sagas. Myths create internal cohesion, sense of direction, confidence.
  2. STORIES & FAIRY TALES: They convey info, morals, values.
  3. RITUAL: Gives structure and meaning to daily life. Morning Coffee. Used to create order, clarity, and predictability. Intiate newcomers.
  4. CEREMONY: Grander than Ritual, more elaborate, less frequent. They punctuate special events.
  5. METAPHOR, HUMOR, & PLAY show "as if" quality of symbols. Metaphor: Cook says he is a professional, an artist, a business person and a worker. Humor allows for loosening of tension.
  6. Organizations are Cultures
  7. Meetings attract people, problems and solutions
  8. An org without a plan is rudderless, short-sighted, and reactive.

Plans are symbols
Plans become games
Plans become excuses for interaction
Plans become advertisements

  1. Evaluations are a ritual to appease the natives.
  2. Evaluation is high drama and symbolizes success or failure.
  3. Power is inherently ambiguous
  4. Orgs are judged primarily by appearance or symbols

Leading Principles

  1. How one becomes a member is important

done by ritual, applying, interviewing etc

  1. Diversity gives competitive edge
  2. Example, not command, holds team together
  3. Specialized Language fosters cohesion and commitment
  4. Stories record History and Give Group Identity
  5. Humor and Play Reduce Tension and Encourage Creativity
  6. Informal players contribute disproportionately to Formal Roles
  7. Soul is the Secret of success

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Return to Outline
Integrating Frames
Table 15.1


  1. Simultaneous events
  2. Multiple Realities
  3. Matching Frame to Situation

Choosing A Frame
Reframing in Action
Essence of reframing is examining the same situation from multiple vantage points to develop holistic picture. Each Frame provides advantages, but also blind spots.

  1. Structure: ignores everything outside jurisdiction, rules, policies, org charts. Does this mean schools should be concerned with things in the home etc? Reliance on structure negates other frames influence.
  2. Human Resources: can cling to romanticized view of human nature. Not all are looking for growth and collaboration.
  3. Politics: clinging can create cynicism and mistrust. Often misunderstood to be amoral, scheming, and unconcerned about the common good.
  4. Symbolic: can be mere fluff or camoflage

Pages 282-293 provide a great look at how to utilize the frames in action. Cindy Marshall in new position and how she could handle given situations to her advantage/disadvantage.


  1. Leadership has great reverence.
  2. Not tangible
  3. It exists only in the relationships and in the imagination and perceptions of the engaged parties.
  4. We expect leaders to persuade or inspire not coerce
  5. We expect leaders to produce cooperative efforts
  6. Obedience to leaders is voluntary not forced
  7. Authority is often an impediment to leadership
  8. Leaders make things happen and things make leaders happen.
  9. Context determines what to do
  10. Leaders are not independent actors
  11. Leadership is a sutble process of mutual influence fusing thought, feeling, and action to produce cooperative effort in the service of purposes and values of both the leader and the led.
  12. Single frame leaders fail!
  13. Good leaders have vision, strength, commitment and are situational (they adapt).
  14. They set standards, create focus and direction, ability to communicate vision, doing work well, inspire trust and build relationships, honesty.
  15. Leadership varies with the situation.

Reframing Leadership
See Chart

  1. Structural Leaders:

do their homework
rethink the relationship of structure, strategy, and environment
focus on implementation
experiment, evaluate, adapt

  1. Human Resource Leaders:

believe in people and communicate their belief
visible and accessible
empower others

  1. Political Leaders:

clarify what they want and what they can get
assess the distribution of power and interests
build linkages to key stakeholders
persuade first, negotiate second, coerce when necessary

  1. Symbolic Leaders:

use symbols to capture attention
frame experience
discover and communicate vision
tell stories, See Gettysburg Address
Reframing Change

  1. Hopeful beginnings, turbulent middle, and a discouraging ending
  2. Change rationally conceived traditionally fail
  3. Restructuring, Recruiting, and Retraining are simultaneous actions to effective Reframing
  4. Retraining is crucial esp when new technology comes in
  5. Veterans become neophytes
  6. In realignment structure provides clarity, predictablity, and security.
  7. Change creates conflict
  8. As change emerges camps form: supporters, opponents, fence-sitters
  9. Often status quo prevails and change agents lose
  10. Arenas provide rules, referees, and spectators
  11. Successful change requires an ability to frame issues, build coalitions, and establish arenas
  12. Ritual is essential in change


  1. The Factory: Excellence and Authorship
  2. The Family: Caring and Love
  3. The Jungle: Justice and Power
  4. The Temple: Faith and Significance

Chapter 20 pages 354-376 provides a great scenario of using the Frames in action. New Principal walks into problems and uses frames to solve them.

Additional Links:

Google Search Results - "Four-Frames", system

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