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The library of essays of Proakatemia

Creating good frames

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Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy
Amy C. Edmondson
Edgar Schein
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 4 minuuttia.

Creating good frames

Our coach Salla advised us that reading anything on teams and teamwork will be very beneficial for our first semester as official team. Correspondingly I choose a book called “Teaming” by Amy C. Edmondson and Edgar H. Schein as my holiday read. Not even halfway through, one skill strikes me as simple, learnable, and actionable and I want to process and unpack it a little more. The skill is called framing.


What is framing? Automatically and mostly without even realizing people use cognitive frames on situations. “A frame is a set of assumptions or beliefs about a situation… We interpret what is going on around us through an invisible lens shaped by our personal history and social context” (Edmondson 2012)

In simple terms framing is a process in our minds where we set the stage for a certain situation. This setting of the stage is influenced by our past experiences. We do this mostly automatically and unconsciously and our believes and feelings about a situation will affect the outcome to some degree. The problem is, that we experience our frame as reality, as opposed to a window or lens through which we look at reality.

In psychological research models framing “consist of two contrasting alternatives: learning versus performing, goal achieving versus self-protecting, or health enhancing versus health limiting.” (Edmondson 2012) Studies show for example that when people see a task as a performance situation they are less likely to take risks and won’t persevere as long as compared to when they frame it as a learning situation. Problem solving situations will succeed better with a learning frame whereas a routine situation will be better and quicker done via a performing frame since one does not rethink every step.

In a team it is good to be aware that oneself and all other members bring a personal frame to every situation. Knowing how to re-frame situations can be a key to the teams’ success.

Edmundson shares about a study she conducted in 16 hospitals cardiac surgery departments. Cardiac surgery is done frequently and mostly successfully in many hospitals. Many lives are saved by the procedure, but the healing process is long and painful since it is an open surgery on the heart. Due to new technology and knowledge a new method called Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery (MICS) was introduced a few years back. Edmundson studied how those new methods where implemented.

The hospitals she overserved where different in many ways. Some had better equipment, more experienced surgeons, more support for innovation and more resources than others. Surprisingly though, none of those things mattered in how successful the hospitals where in adopting the new and better MICS procedure. The thing that mattered most for success was how the leader of the project framed the new situation. Namely three things mattered:

  • The view of the leader’s role in the project,
  • The view of the team’s role in the project
  • The view of the purpose of the project.

For effective and successful teamwork framing these three aspects right makes a big difference.


The leader’s role:

Traditionally hospitals have strong hierarchical structures. Head doctors and head surgeons are highly skilled experts who give orders that are to be followed by nurses and other staff. In this situation, though, success did not depend so much on the expertise of the head surgeon and team leader but on their ability to “present themselves in a way that encourages teamwork and fosters mutual respect, which is crucial to helping others share information, ask questions, and experiment with the variety of new behaviors or tasks that may be involved” (Edmondson 2012)

Since hospitals function with strong hierarchies, the team leader deliberately had to re-frame this new situation as a team effort and a learning experience.

The team’s role:

Accordingly, in the successful teams, the team members where not just following orders from a highly skilled expert whose superior skillset would lead to success, but they had a sense of ownership. The leader hand-picked them and made clear that success comes not from his abilities but from good cooperation and open communication with all team members. Each member knew that they had an important part in success or failure. Everyone was seen as a partner and teammate.

The purpose: Aspirational or defensive

Each of the leaders framed the purpose of adapting the new surgery in a different way but it can be classified in one of two categories: Aspirational or defensive. One successful team leader framed the purpose as benefiting each patient because of a quicker and less painful recovery. One unsuccessful team leader did not define a purpose but communicated the new procedure as a necessary burden to stay competitive as a hospital.

Creating a learning frame

Researchers agree that most of our automatic frames we bring to a work setting are about self-protection as opposed to learning. These frames prohibit learning and improvement. Reframing will bring a lot of benefits to our own outlook at challenges ahead and to teamwork and problem-solving work.

Key actions for reframing as a leader involve stressing that the work ahead depends highly on all team members and not only on one person. All contribution is important, and learning should be defined as one of the key purposes. Getting it right the first time should not be the goal. In crucial and dangerous situations this learning attitude should be paired with a lot of group preparations, trials, and reflections.

My experience

Also my natural and unconscious frames with which I enter challenging or high-stake work settings is more focused on self-protection then on learning. Interestingly enough it applies for me mostly to work, not for example sports. This doesn’t help when it comes to entrepreneurship. My first six month at Proakatemia where already quite helpful to changing the self-protection frame. I believe the change comes from two things. Firstly, I have learned new things that give me more confidence in entrepreneurship and secondly because the frame or premise through which Proakatemia functions and runs by is a learning frame. From coaches and from older teams, in word and in practice one hears and sees that learning is of high value and failure is part of learning and success. The values; trust – courage – doing – learning – success are displayed in practice and are contagious if one allows them to be.



Edmondson, A.C & Schein, E.H., 2012. Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, Jossey-Bass, O’Reilly

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