June 1, 2010

books: reframing organizations

Why am I reading books on organizational theory and leadership? Well, the convenient answer is that they are required for a class at Fuller. But to be frank, I'm faced with leadership and organizational challenges in my work just like everyone else. Honestly, I was bit surprised at how helpful I found this one in particular. It's a whopper of a book at almost 500 pages long. But below I'd like to do my best to offer a review of this tome and how I found it beneficial to my work in Christian ministry.

Reframing Organizations amalgamates the full breadth of respected research on organization and leadership. The authors summarize good leadership as that which is able to view an organization through four distinct “frames,” use these frames to assess the condition of the organization and determine how to actuate the measures necessary for achieving its goals.

The four frames offered by Bolman and Deal are structural, human resource, political and symbolic. I found the term "frame" to be a bit problematic when trying to explain this. The frames are meant to address how we perceive the organizations we work with. And not one frame will suffice. As chapter twenty illustrates well, reflecting on an organization through all four provides a more complete perception of a particular scenario allowing an increasingly creative and thorough response. With this in mind, I will often refer to the frames as "lenses."

The structural lens (Part Two) is concerned with organization, structure, hierarchy and division of labor. The human resource lens (Part Three) is concerned with the needs of those inside, and influenced by, the organization. The political lens (Part Four) looks at negotiating and leveraging power and influence to meet the goals of the organization. The symbolic lens (Part Five) assesses opportunities to create symbolism and ritual that will cast vision and raise spirits of those within the organization.

At first glance, we either automatically pigeon-hole our organization or just write off this approach as simplistic, modernistic or just plain un-churchy. But the book does offer a balanced analysis of what it means to be a thoughtful, creative leader within any organization, even a church. Their research looks at a broad spectrum of people gathered together for a particular purpose (an organization) in different arenas. The trouble is that several of the authors' lenses imply a metaphor that will make us uncomfortable in reference to the church. For some the political lens makes us uneasy. For others, the structural or human resource lens. So, would this information be helpful to a church?

The answer is, yes. The book is in great part concerned with reframing how we look at situations so that we can work together better. And what Christian community doesn't need to do that? But, I also found myself taking this question down a theological rabbit trail, potentially away from the practical side. In trying to answer this question from a theological vantage point, I began to look at a book I read a few years ago, John Driver's Images of the Church in Mission. In his preface, Driver states, "The Bible employs a rich variety of metaphors that illumine our understanding of the identity and the mission of the church." He goes on to categorize the metaphors for the Church on mission into four sections: Pilgrimage Images, New-Order Images, Peoplehood Images, and Images of Transformation. While I admit they are not a perfect fit for Bolman and Deal's "frames" the images are helpful in putting the tools these authors provide into the context of the church.

Driver's pilgrimage set, relates to images such as "The Way," "Sojourners" and "The Poor." Here Driver looks at the Scriptural metaphors that direct how the church relates to both members and those outside of itself. Applying Bolman and Deal's human resource frame, the local church is concerned with the development of people within the congregation and those impacted by its ministry. Read alongside Driver's pilgrimage images, the church leadership might determine whether or not their members are truly sojourning–on a journey–or at a place of stagnation. The church might assess their relationship to the "stranger and alien." Do they embrace a biblical image, or have they adopted another for how to address those in their midst but not of them?

The symbolic frame is perceivably the easiest to find a correlation with the church. Driver's new-order images of "the Kingdom of God," "New Humanity and "New Creation" seem the most appropriate. The stories in Scripture that draw out these metaphors, give us many of our rituals and invigorate our imaginations for what is to come are what has animated Christians throughout the ages. While different theological intricacies are applied in many churches, it remains that these central symbols are what make what we do important. Bolman and Deal write that when these images are communicated in a manner that is aligned with our practices it will "... deepen faith; otherwise, they become cold, empty forms that people resent and avoid."

Bolman and Deal's political frame is concerned with power. While Driver's new-order images may seem the obvious correlation, I believe his images of transformation provide the appropriate lens for understanding the political frame within the church. These images include "Salt," "Light," "City on a Hill," "House" and "Witnesses." It is within these images that we see how the church-as-organization negotiates with the world. As Bolman and Deal write, "The question is not whether organizations are political but what kind of politics they will encompass." The images of transformation inform the church of how it engages, influences and participates in the transformation of cultures. This might ring of colonialism for some. Let me simply ask, do images such as "salt" and "witnesses"–as understood in the early church (they all died)–call us to a particular kind of engagement?

I end with the frame Bolman and Deal began with, the structural frame. Within the church, Driver's peoplehood images find correlation here. Images such as "flock," "people," "family" and "body" all allude to how the church ought to be organized. Within these metaphors we find our objectives and goals; we know Who is in charge and who is to follow and how to relate to each other. It is easy for the individual to get lost when the focus is simply on getting this frame "right." The challenge is that, as Driver points out, there are several images provided by Scripture that offer a vision for how we are organized. Not one alone works. Bolman and Deal speak about finding an "equilibrium" that, in our case would take the neighborhood, specific ministries and resources of the congregation into consideration.

When I first picked up Reframing Organizations, the size was daunting and the subject matter appeared intimidating, and possibly boring. Yet, when finished, I had a deep appreciation for the content. The four frames, paired with Driver's four image sets, provide a way to “listen” to a faith community in context, discerning what is out of place, what is needed and what you can participate in reframing things.

Posted via web from jason evans

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