The Four Frame Model

The Four Frame Model is a concept that divides up any given organization into ‘four frames’ – with the goal of understanding these organizations better when they are divided up in this manner. Organizations are extremely complicated entities, with a potentially huge number of personalities, motivations, capabilities, limitations, and more at play.

Four Frame Model

If you are going to get the most out of your organization, you need to understand it as intricately as possible. While many tools exist for this purpose, the Four Frame Model is one of the most in-depth and one of the most successful.

To get started understanding this way of thinking about an organization, the first thing you need to understand are the four frames themselves. They are as follows –

  • Structural
  • Human Resource
  • Political
  • Symbolic

Each of these frames plays an important role in understanding the whole of an organization. If you were to look at just one or two of these frames on their own, the picture would not be clear and you would not necessarily have an accurate image of what the organization is doing today, or what it is capable of doing in the future. Therefore, if you are going to commit to using this model in the analysis of your own organization, you need to commit to using each of the frames in a meaningful way.

The content below will walk through each of the four frames to gain a better understanding of how each can be used to understand a part of an organization.

Structural Frame

This is the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the organization. When you think about evaluating your organization and how it works, this is probably what you think of first. How all your systems are organized, how the structure of the business is established, and how your technology works toward reaching goals would all be included in this point.

The Structural Frame

In many ways, this will be the easiest frame to understand and evaluate, simply because it is so black and white. You can look at the structure of your business objectively and make changes as necessary to achieve better outcomes.

Of course, while this might be the easiest frame to analyze, it also might be the most important – therefore requiring a majority of your time. If the structure of your organization is ‘out of whack’ for one reason or another, it may not matter what you do within the rest of the frames. You really need to get this point right, because everything else plays off of an efficient and effective organizational structure. As a business manager or owner, you might not have a more important job than to make sure that the structure of your company makes sense for what you are trying to achieve.

Human Resource Frame

All organizations are made up of individuals. Even if you are in a business that leans heavily on technology, you still have people behind the scenes that make that technology go. Therefore, paying attention to the human side of your organization is essential to short and long term success. It tends to be people that are happy and motivated that lead to the best business results, so all companies should take the time and effort necessary to ensure that their people are positive about the work that they do.

The Human Resource Frame

Any number of methods can be used to attend to the human side of an organization, from simple team building exercises and employee perks to one-on-one meetings with management to ensure satisfaction and take suggestions. Engaging employees of all levels in the operation of the business is frequently the best way to raise moral and productivity.

Political Frame

It is impossible to escape politics. They exist everywhere you turn, and that is especially true in business. Your organization is full of politics, whether you want to acknowledge their existence or not. So, in order to understand your organization and move it forward successfully, you need to have a clear picture of how the politics in your company are working. Who are the power players who are driving most of the decision making? Are there various parties fighting for control and recognition, and how do they intend on getting it? Politics often have an automatically-negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Some politics can be healthy and productive, especially when there is competition among employees to reach new achievements and accomplish company goals.

Symbolic Frame

This might be the most difficult frame for the average business owner or manager to understand and use, as it requires thinking in a way that is not conventional for a business professional.

The Symbolic Frame

In this frame, you are going to look at the organization through the lens of theater or drama, in that the individuals involved in the organization are seen as actors in an ongoing performance. This line of thinking and framing gives life to the organization, and the meaning behind the actions that are taken matters in many ways more than the results of those actions. It isn’t so much about rules in this point as it is about the way the organization moves and evolves together into the future.

The four frames is an effective tool in large part because of how it forces you to look at your company or business from a variety of different angles. Rather than seeing things the same way over and over again – and coming to the same conclusions as a result – you are going to need to see things from a unique angle when you work through the four frames. It might not be clear at first what you are going to gain when you use each frame, but stick with the process and take the time to deal with each one before moving on to the next. As long as you commit to the method and give it your full attention, you should come away with a far greater understanding of the organization as a whole.

You can read more about the Four Frame Model in our free eBook ‘Top 5 Problem Solving Tools’. Download it now for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Key Points

  • The Four Frame Model is designed to help you understand and approach issues about organizational problems, development, and change.
  • It views organizations in four frames representing separate metaphors: structural (factories or machines), human resource (personal relationships), political (jungles or battles for power), and symbolic (theatre or drama).
  • Each of these frames can be thought of as a different perspective or way of looking at things which can help you to see the same situation in a variety of ways.
  • The structural frame focuses on the architecture of the organization. This includes goals, structure, technology, roles and relationships.
  • The human resource frame emphasizes individual needs, feelings, fears, prejudices, skills, and development opportunities.
  • The political frame emphasizes power and competition, taking into account diverse beliefs, interests, behaviors, and skills.
  • The symbolic frame treats organizations as theatre or drama focusing on meaning and faith.
  • With each of the four frames, the interested organizational observer can view the same situation in at least four ways.

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