Reframing Situations to Generate Solutions

Thanks to Catherine Steeves (University of Guelph), Catherine Davidson (York University) and Barb BolmanMcDonald (Brock University) for an excellent session on Sense Making & Solving Problems: Leveraging the View “From the Balcony”.  They talked about Olman’s work on Reframing Organizations – seminal work by Olman that they studied at Harvard Institute for Academic Librarians.  Here’s my notes:

Leaders fail for 2 reasons:

  1. they don’t take ppl with them and 2. look at the full situation  – with the facts

Major schools of organization thought:

  •  Structures
  • HR
  • Symbolic
  • Political

Leaders need fluency in all 4, but the truth is that everyone has their own “natural tendency” frames – what comes most naturally to you; we all find it difficult to look at situations through different frames.  Go to Link to complete the assess/identify your own frame:  leebolman.com/frames_selfrating_scale.htm  to determine your natural frame 

Structure Frame: How do you know if structure is at the heart of the problem? Bolman’s advice – if the characters change & the plot remains the same, the structure is the problem.

HR frame: looks at the impact & implications for ppl & relationships

The Political frame: a metaphor for this frame is the jungle; the key resource everyone is vying for is power; the organization is formed thru coalitions that are marked by stark different in values, and this leads to conflict;  conflict is seen as driving innovation and sparking new ideas; political leaders bargain & build relationships

Symbolic frame – it is the least written about & discussed in academic environments; yet symbols are very powerful – it is about culture – seeing organizations as theatres, temples or circuses; it assumes that ppl will use symbols to clarify situations

  • culture is the sum of how pppl behave
  • ceremonies are how organizations demonstrate their values
  • these leaders construct powerful narratives

Speakers used a case study based on PPP (program prioritization process) that is occurring at 15+ Cdn Universities right now; all programs being reviewed to determine those the university will continue to focus on, initiate, etc.; the “writing is on the wall” that the government will require of universities: quality assurance, differentiation framework, strategic mandate agreements, etc.

– Frames are based on notion of going to the balcony to see the full situation – need multiple tools & the skills.

As Catherine D. said, it’s “liberating to know that there is always more than 1 solution to any issue.”

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