Thursday, February 4, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Reframing Organizations

Title: Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership
Authors: Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal

via Amazon

Reframing Organizations is another leftover from my Master's program, completed last summer.  Bolman and Deal first presented their idea in the 1970s: a four-frame model offering different perspectives for looking at the way organizations function.  There are perils in taking on such a book as "pleasure" reading.  It's nearly impossible to read without thinking about work, the very thoughts one is often trying to escape through pleasure reading.  As such, I did my best to consider the frames in terms of Star Trek instead.

Will Riker sees the Enterprise through the Structural Frame.  Everyone has a job and if everyone does that job properly, everything is hunky-dory.

Jean-Luc Picard prefers the Human Resources Frame.  While responsibilities are important, healthy relationships are essential to smooth operation.

Odo and Quark of Deep Space Nine (DS9) view the world through the Political Frame.  At the end of the day, everyone's looking out for their own interests.  Effective leadership begins with understanding the struggle for limited resources which results.

Worf and Kira (DS9) favor the Symbolic Frame.  Organizations - and societies - thrive with a sense of belonging and common purpose.  (Both characters's struggles stem from living with those whose meaningful symbols are different from their own).

I will readily admit that my analogy oversimplifies both the frames and the Star Trek characters.  But it gives us a starting point.

Despite being packaged as a text book, Reframing Organizations is a genuinely engaging read.  The authors offer case studies from a wide range of organizations: McDonald's, Harvard, Amazon, NASA, etc.  The differing group structures of team sports - baseball, football and basketball - provide apt metaphors for the Structural Frame in particular.

I'll spoil the ending.  The most effective leaders are those who are able to consider an organization through multiple frames, ideally all four.  Admittedly, there's a self-serving element to these "findings."  All successes are attributed to using the frames effectively.  All failures are blamed on failure to do so.  But the broader point is well made.  There are different ways to look at a problem.  The fact that individuals can read the same situation differently is important to understand.  Once you see that, it's easier to come up with a variety of solutions to one's challenges.

Makes perfect sense.

Getting back to my analogy, Benjamin Sisko navigates the frames beautifully.


  1. This sounds like a book I should have read when I was younger--there was a time I was reading a lot of organization and management books. I've passed that :)

    1. I'm always grateful for insight in how people work together.

  2. Unfortunately, I have no interest in this whatsoever. At least, not at this point in my life. Maybe if I could apply to Star Wars, but it doesn't sound like it really fits that frame. :P

    1. Okay.

      For what it's worth, Star Wars definitely takes the Symbolic frame of society, though there's a heavy dose of politics, too.

    2. What I mean is that there are not a lot of organizations within Star Wars to apply this to. Other than the Empire itself, that kind of thing.
      Being able to look at individual starship crews is kind of an ideal application.

    3. Oh, definitely. In reality, Star Trek/Star Wars is Apples/Oranges. While the sci-fi trappings may be comparable, the stories are really very different. Star Trek, from the very beginning, is all about how people interact with each other. Star Wars is all about the individual journey.

      I stand by my assertion though and, in truth, I hadn't thought about it at all until you brought it up. Finding a sense of purpose is central to the Star Wars story from the first movie onward.

  3. Not sure I could convince myself this is a pleasure read even if I put it in terms of the Justice League (my preferred fandom), but it does sound interesting. Perhaps you could write your take on this idea in terms of Star Trek. That could actually be a real pleasure read.

    1. My leadership/organization/business books have certainly given me new insight into the series.