Mark Kendall 11/21/2011 MGMT 313. 002 Reframing:Smoke Jumpers The Symbolic frame focuses on how humans make sense of the ambiguous world around them. Symbols take on many forms in an organization including, stories, ritual, language, and values. Whereas the political frame proposes that interdependence, divergent interests, scarcity, and power relations inevitably create political activity (Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, 2008). In the case of the Smoke Jumpers, the mishandling of scarce resources, separation of collations, and their organizational culture lead to the disaster of Mann Gulch in August of 1949.
Little to no unity existed among members of this organization which caused them to be doomed from the beginning. To fire-jump everything needs to be in unity in order for average men to commit their lives for the job. Power struggles and cultural norms impeded group cohesion causing sub-groups and ambiguity along the way. By using both the political and symbolic frames from Bowman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations we can begin to get a sense of what went wrong, and help suggest possible solutions. Organizations are coalitions of assorted individuals and interest groups.
The smoke-jumpers were a small coalition made up of mostly young inexperienced men, whose primary interest was to make as much money as they could. Although there were a couple experienced members among the group, the foreman Dodge, and the second in command Hellman among them. Dodge, an ex fire-jumper instructor, held most of the power in the coalition including, authority, positional, intellectual and experience. He would often reframe from using these to the benefit of the group. He was one of the most experienced jumpers in the outfit being there for more than 9 years.
Yet he never seemed to be too interested in spreading his knowledge to his young, and inexperienced crew. He seemed to lack personal power within his team. This kind of power is only achieved through crew bonding and being a socially adept. This power might be one of the most important ones when leading a coalition into a life and death situation. One of the surviving crew members said of Dodge “It was one of the best characteristics he was known for, Dodge believed on the principle of thinking to himself because thinking out loud only got him into trouble. ”(Maclean, 1993).
When they saw him light the escape fire they must have been thinking he was crazy, because he never communicated to them exactly what he was doing. This was a technique never seen before and if you do not hold 100% command and respect from your team it is doubtful they will follow you into a fire to save them without prior explanation. Hellman, the other experienced member of the group, saw this and being more socially adept with his crew he took control of some and lead them to certain death. Coalition members have enduring differences in values, beliefs, information, interests, and perceptions of reality.
Once Dodge and Hellman left their inexperienced crew after they landed, a separate coalition formed. With experienced and leadership now becoming a scarce resource conflict soon arose. Scarce resources and enduring differences put conflict at the center of day-to-day dynamics and make power the most important asset (Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, 2008). Once they were separated the group became confused and began to follow the 2nd in command, who usually rears the group to repeat commands. They now had new agenda of making money conflicting with the current one of putting out the fire.
They felt that there was no use putting a little fire out of it’s misery too soon when you could get paid overtime. So they decided to establish a line around the back of the fire overnight, which is useless because fires burn up gulches not down. The crew started back up the gulch around 5 an hour later they were dead. It wasn’t only the political atmosphere that contributed to the death of these men, but also the culture that existed in the organization of the smokejumpers. An organization’s culture is revealed and communicated through its symbols.
These symbols take many forms in organizations. Over time, an organization develops distinctive beliefs, values, and customs (Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, 2008). A metaphor for the smokejumpers actions is like they were actors being watched by thousands of their admirers, from girlfriends and families to movie stars. They would catch that puney fire give it the “ole’ 1-2. Then they would be off home to drink beer and be worshiped for their heroics battling the evil fire. They had a culture of thinking they were the best and the fire was a pushover.
In the very dangerous environment that they work at a new member would have to have this mindset to keep fears manageable and give them the courage to fight the fires. Yet one always has to respect fire because of the unrelenting force it can become, the crew didn’t. Rituals play a key role in an organization like this. Enacted, ritual connects an individual or group to something mystical, more than words can capture (Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, 2008). Jumpers are constantly fixated on the equipment they used.
Throughout the days preparing and jumping the crew would constantly inspect their equipment because their lives are invested in them. The ritual of jumping were like religious experiences for these men. They felt reborn and connected and with god flying above their earth. This gave the crew an extra adrenaline boost to fight the fire, and influence men to return to the service because of the thrill. Symbols and stories also play a big role in an organization. In high-preforming organizations and groups, stories keep traditions alive and provide examples to guide everyday behavior.
They encourage others to go beyond themselves, making them feel like their part of history themselves. Most of the men of the crew carried a Pulaskis, a tool that combines an axe and hoe into one tool. It is a firefighters best friend during a forest fire, the relationship is comparable to a Marine and his firearm. During the battle of the fire the smokejumper would become one with his Pulaskis through thick and thin. The inventor, Ed Pulaskis, is a hero to the firefighters for his knowledge and determination to save his crew in a forest fire.
He used his knowledge of the area to save his crew from a fire “blow up” in 1910. He lead them to a abandoned mine and saved all but 5 of his 45 crew. So to hear their leader say, “Drop your tools” must have been unthinkable to some of them. To the members of this organization it was as if he said, “Leave your friends behind, they’re dead weight to us. ” as a wall of fire was quickly approaching. When Dodge broke this cultural norm it caused his crew to distrust him a bit, because what he asked of them was unthinkable. Over time, an organization develops distinctive beliefs, values and customs.
Managers who understand the significance of symbols and know how to evoke spirit and soul can shape more cohesive and effective originations (Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, 2008). Dodge did not recognize how much he was asking of his men when he told them to discard their tools. Leaders can also manipulate symbols to convey their messages. The inexperienced members of the organization lack soul for the job, most were in it just for the money. The essence of high performance is spirit. If we were to banish play, ritual, ceremony, and myth, we would destroy teamwork, not enhance it.
Dodge failed to see how important controlling symbols were to being a successful leader. In this group there were several important tenets of the symbolic frame that were missing from their culture. Example, not command, holds a team together. Dodge did lead by example, yet he needed to use his power to command his crew. Also the crew didn’t use much humor and play to reduce the tensions and encourage creativity. Because Dodge lacked the personal connection with his crew to use humor and play to reduce fear and stress among the team. Changing a culture in an organization is a very difficult task for a manager.
Authorities hold position power, but they must vie with many other contenders for other forms of leverage. Contenders bring their own beliefs, values and interest (Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, 2008). For Dodge, leadership and time were the contributing factors to the creation of sub-groups within the smokejumper coalition. Managers often fail to get things done because they rely too much on reason and too little on relationship. Dodge had no sort relationship with his crew members. In a life and death situation you need to know what your leader is thinking, but Dodge never did that he would always keep to himself.
If he wanted to make a transition from a great fire instructor to the leader of the smokejumpers this would have to change. Using Kotter’s the four basic steps for exercising political influent. We can begin to see what Dodge should have done to gain personal power in his crew. First he needed to identify relationships to figure out which players you need to influence, without natural charisma he should have identified Hellman as a political player. By empowering Hellman and giving him more positional power he would have gained the respect of Hellman and in return the respect of the team.
By empowering him, Dodge would have avoided the resistance to follow his orders. This would develop links with opponents to his plans and help facilitate communication, education, or negotiation. These steps underscore the importance of developing a power base. People rarely give their best efforts and fullest cooperation simply because they have been ordered to do so. They accept direction better when they perceive the people in authority as credible, competent, and sensible. Dodge never built up a power base of followers which ultimately lead to loss of faith, loss of control and ultimately death.
Goals and decisions emerged from bargaining and negotiation among competing groups and organizations jockeying for their own interests and agendas. When conflict isn’t managed correctly it leads to the infighting and destructive power struggle between the organizations involved and disables the overall group progress. Works Cited Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal. (2008). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass. Maclean, N. (1993). Young men and fire. (pp. 39-109). Retrieved from http://learnonline. unca. edu/file. php/1415/Case_Assignment_-_SmokeJumpers. pdf