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Contents | 1. Introduction | 2. Stories we are in | 3. Ways of seeing | 4. Characteristics
5. Organisational review questionnaires | 6. Resources

3. Ways of seeing

Images of organisation


Gareth Morgan in Images of Organisation describes images of organisations and their implications for practice.

Some of the images in his book are:

  • Organisations as machines
  • Organisations as organisms
  • Organisations as brains
  • Organisations as cultures
  • Organisations as political systems
  • Organisations as instruments of domination

Morgan argues that these metaphors create ways of seeing and shaping organisation life.

Key questions are:

What organisational metaphors are you using?
What are their implications?

Reframing organizations

Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal in Reframing Organizations make the case for four ways of making sense of organisations.

  • The structural frame
  • The human resource frame
  • The political frame
  • The symbolic frame

They argue that managers who can understand and work across these four frames will improve their leadership and management.

The assumptions that underpin the four frames are:

The structural frame

Six assumptions underpin the structural frame (p45)

  1. Organizations exist to achieve established goals and objectives
  2. Organisations increase efficiency and enhance performance through specialization and a clear division of labour
  3. Appropriate forms of coordination and control ensure that diverse efforts of individuals and units mesh
  4. Organisations work best then rationality prevails over personal preferences and extraneous pressures
  5. Structures must be designed to fit an organization's circumstances (including its goals, technology, workforce, and environment).
  6. Problems and performance gaps arise from structural deficiencies and can be remedied through analysis and restructuring.

The human resource frame

The four core assumptions of the human resource frame are: (p115)

  1. Organisations exist to serve human needs rather than the reverse
  2. People and organisations need each other. Organisations need ideas, energy, and talent; people need careers, salaries, and opportunities.
  3. When the fit between individual and system is poor, one or both suffer. Individuals are exploited or exploit the organisations - or both become victims.
  4. A good fit benefits both. Individuals find meaningful and satisfying work, and organizations get the talent and energy they need to succeed.

The political frame

Five propositions summarise the political frame (p186).

  1. Organizations are coalitions of diverse 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 allocating scarce resources - who gets what.
  4. Scarce resources and enduring differences make conflict central to organisational dynamics and underline power as the most important asset.
  5. Goals and decisions emerge from bargaining, negotiation, and jockeying for position among competing stakeholders.

The symbolic frame

For core assumptions for the symbolic frame are (p242-243):

  1. What is most important is not what happens but what it means
  2. Activity and meaning are loosely coupled; events have multiple meanings because people interpret experience differently.
  3. In the face of widespread uncertainty and ambiguity, people create symbols to resolve confusion, increase predictability, find direction, and anchor hope and faith.
  4. Many events and processes are more important for what is expressed than what is produced. They for a cultural tapestry of secular myths, heroes and heroines, rituals, ceremonies, and stories that help people find purpose and passion in their personal and work lives.
  5. Culture is the glue that holds an organization together and unities people around shared values and beliefs.

Key questions

What is your preferred frame?
What is your organisations' preferred frame?
Can you operate across all four frames?



Reframing Organisations, Artistry, Choice and Leadership. Bolman, Lee G and Deal, Terrence E. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 2003.

Images of Organisation, Morgan, Gareth, 2nd Edition, Sage London, 1997