Author Post: A model for understanding complex organizations

Written by Julia Jackson (pictured below), co-author of Hubert Project E-Case “Before & After: Exploring organizational change from four perspectives“.

Julia JacksonTrying to understand an organization can feel like a monumental task. There is the mission of the organization, its purpose and values. Digging in a little more we can look at the programs and the communities the organization serves, and the actual impact the organization is making. But there are also the staff members, their day-to-day interactions, and how the organizational hierarchy is set up. We can also look at the board of directors and how the directors interact with each other and with other elements of the organization. Partnerships with other organizations can be important to understand too, as well as financial relationships and funding streams.

It can easily get overwhelming. But when things aren’t working, when there is a need for change, it can become critical to understand an organization. How do we make sense of so much information? How do we make decisions about what should change, how and why?

Bolman and Deal’s four-frame model gives us a tool to use. Four frames that each give us a different way of dissecting, diagnosing and understanding an organization: structural, political, human resources and symbolic. Each frame can provide valuable information and help us piece together a more complete story.

In this E-Case we dive into the Four-Frame Model and then apply it to an organization, the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging (MNRAAA). Uniquely, we get to examine this organization using the four frames before and after it underwent a major organizational change. Using the four frames we can explore: How did the organization change? Why did it make the choices it did? What might it need to pay attention to going forward?

Use this E-Case to understand and practice using the four frames as a tool for understanding and diagnosing organizations. You’ll hear directly from staff and board members at the organization so you can do your own before-and-after analysis.

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