Navigating Learning & Development:
Bolman and Deal’s Frames as Catalysts for Professional Transformation

🕑 3 minutes read | Jan 22 2024 | By Todd Conkright, TTA Learning Consultant

In the dynamic realm of Learning & Development (L&D), the quest for effective strategies and innovative solutions is perpetual. Drawing from my experience crafting a course within the School of Business that resonated with students, I’ve come to appreciate the profound impact of Systems Thinking, particularly enriched by Bolman and Deal’s four frames – Human Resources, Political, Structural, and Symbolic.

Embracing Systems Thinking in L&D

A Personal Insight

A few years ago I crafted a course that became a favorite among students for its eye-opening and practical approach. I became acquainted with Bolman & Deal’s Reframing Organizations during my graduate studies. I appreciated the principles that are instrumental in navigating the complex landscape of Learning & Development within organizational settings. The course I offered was aligned with the book and students learned an appreciation of systems thinking.

Systems Thinking in Action

Systems Thinking encourages us to view L&D not as isolated initiatives but as interconnected elements within the larger organizational system. Bolman and Deal’s frames serve as a powerful toolset to decipher these connections, providing a nuanced perspective that goes beyond traditional training models.

Bolman and Deal’s 4 Frames in L&D

  1. Human Resources Frame: In L&D, understanding the human aspect is paramount. The Human Resources frame prompts professionals to adopt people-centric approaches. It guides the creation of tailored learning experiences that resonate with individuals, fostering a culture of continuous development.
  2. Political Frame: Navigating organizational power dynamics is a crucial skill for L&D professionals. The Political frame equips us to identify stakeholders, understand their perspectives, and strategically align learning initiatives with broader organizational goals, ensuring support from key influencers.
  3. Structural Frame: Creating effective learning structures requires a solid framework. The Structural frame aids in designing comprehensive L&D programs, considering organizational hierarchies, workflows, and processes. It ensures that learning interventions seamlessly integrate into the existing organizational structure.
  4. Symbolic Frame: L&D is not just about acquiring skills; it’s about shaping the culture of learning. The Symbolic frame helps professionals infuse meaning and values into learning experiences, fostering a sense of purpose and engagement among employees.

4 Ways To Apply Bolman and Deal’s Frames with Business Partners

  1. Strategic Collaboration: Collaborating with business partners is integral to L&D success. By utilizing the frames, L&D professionals can align their initiatives with organizational strategies. The Political frame, in particular, aids in navigating the organizational landscape, fostering alliances, and ensuring that L&D is seen as a strategic partner rather than a separate entity.
  2. Tailored Solutions: The Human Resources frame guides the customization of learning solutions to meet the unique needs of employees. Whether it’s leadership development, technical skills training, or cultural transformation, understanding the human element ensures that L&D initiatives resonate with the workforce.
  3. Organizational Integration: The Structural frame plays a pivotal role in integrating L&D seamlessly into the organizational structure. By aligning learning objectives with business goals and workflows, professionals ensure that development initiatives become an integral part of the organizational fabric.
  4. Cultural Transformation: L&D is not just about transferring knowledge; it’s about shaping the organization’s culture. The Symbolic frame helps L&D professionals create learning experiences that reflect and reinforce the desired organizational values, contributing to a positive and transformative workplace culture.


In the ever-evolving landscape of Learning & Development, embracing Systems Thinking through Bolman and Deal’s frames offers a holistic approach. It not only enhances the effectiveness of training initiatives but also positions L&D professionals as strategic partners in organizational success. By weaving these frames into the fabric of your professional journey, you’ll not only navigate challenges but also pave the way for a transformative and dynamic learning experience within your organization.

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