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,...
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