Monday, December 20, 2010

Viewing Schools Through the Structural Frame

As educators, we are always learning about how to improve our classes, divisions, and schools.  One question that should be asked in almost any reflection about our classes, divisions, or schools is:

“Is the structure that I have established conducive to what I am trying to achieve?”

In order to answer this question, one must view the class, division, school, etc. through a structural frame or lense.  Bolman and Deal (2002) state that “most educators rely primarily on the human resource or structural lenses” (p. 4), but what is this structural lense and what does it offer in terms of the decisions I make about my school?

Background on the Structural Frame

Bolman and Deal (2003) provide two main intellectual roots for the structural frame. The first is the maximum efficiency work most prominently explored by Frederick Taylor (1911) using scientific management. The second root stems from the work describing bureaucracies by Max Weber (1922).

According to Bolman and Deal (2003), “…the structural perspective champions a pattern of well-thought out roles and relationships” (p. 45). Six core assumptions provide the basis for the structural frame (Bolman & Deal, 2003):

  1. Organizations exist to achieve established goals and objectives.
  2. Organizations increase efficiency and enhance performance through specialization and a clear division of labor.
  3. Appropriate forms of coordination and control ensure that diverse efforts of individuals and units mesh.
  4. Organizations work best when 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. (p. 45)

By defining organizational goals, dividing people into specific roles, and developing policies, rules, and a chain of command; the structural frame can be traced to both the classical organizational theory with some influence from the organizational behavior perspective (Bolman & Deal, 1984). Durocher (1996) added that the structural frame depends on a belief that organizations operate rationally, with certainty, and predictably once the right structure in employed. Durocher (1996) also states that such predictability and rationality applies to the behavior of individuals in the organization. Bolman and Deal (2003) further described the structural leader as a sort of social architect whose basic challenge was to “attune structure to task, technology, environment” (p. 16).

Leaders Using the Structural Frame

Among structural leaders, there are some characteristics (Bolman & Deal, 2003):

  • Structural leaders do their homework.
  • Structural leaders rethink the relationship of structure, strategy, and environment.
  • Structural leaders focus on implementation.
  • Effective structural leaders experiment, evaluate, and adapt. (pp. 352-353)

Therefore, when you examine your school environment and reflect on how to address the often uncertain dynamics of how to continue to apply your best efforts, how much are you viewing your situation through the structural frame?  Though not the only frame from which to view your school, the structural frame is certainly among the most used frames by effective educators.


Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (1984). Modern approaches to understanding and managing organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2002). Reframing the path to school leadership: A guide for teachers and principals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. (3rd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Durocher, E. A. (1996). Leadership orientations of school administrators: A survey of nationally recognized school leaders. Dissertations Abstracts International, 57(02), 525A. (UMI No. 9620148)

Taylor, F. W. (1911). The principles of scientific management. New York: Norton.

Weber, M. (1922). Bureaucracy. In H. Gerth & C. W. Mills (Eds.), Max Weber: Essays in sociology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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