Lewin’s Force Field Analysis

How do you increase the chances of a successful change project? One of the tools, steeped in science is Lewin’s Force Field Analysis. We’ll show you the tool and how to use it to help you in your role.

Lewin’s Force Field Analysis is a simple tool that helps you identify the forces for and against a specific situation. By listing these factors, you can then get to work to eliminate those that are pushing against a positive outcome, therefore reducing the negative impact and increasing your chances of success.

First, the Science

There’s a good bit of science behind this concept.

The fact is, that for every reaction, there are opposing forces, looking to balance things out. This theory of equilibrium is a part of the world around us.

Think of a tightrope walker, standing on a tightrope. They have the act of balancing ever so intricately to stay on the tightrope.

They balance their centre of gravity, using their arms, body position, the speed of their walk, and the exact motion of walking one foot at a time.

At the same time, there are forces acting against them. These forces are pushing against their balance, in view of falling off the tightrope.

If the walker swings her arms too far forward, or backward, it could spell disaster. If they don’t plant their feet correctly, they’ll fall off, too.

In fact, anything that upsets their balance, are these opposing forces.

Both of these forces are in play.

You can either balance, and stay on – giving way to the forward forces…or you can fall off – giving way to the opposing forces.

Forces in Organisational Behaviour

In 1948, Kurt Lewin wrote a book on the subject of humans and how they influence change.

Lewin found that this principle of equilibrium affects change in organisations, and how people respond to it. He identified that in any change situation, there are both positive forces (he called driving forces) that can positively influence change, and also negative forces (Restraining Forces) that resist change.

In fact, in Lewin’s Force Field Analysis, he identifies culture as being in a state of equilibrium. In other words, there are forces for and against everyone.

Lewin identified that in order to implement cultural change or any change on people… or even to overcome a situation, the balance between both forces must be broken. This creates a momentum shift in one way or another…

If not, inertia is created, meaning change won’t happen.

This sounds pretty obvious, for most. But Lewin helped put this observation into a working model that is incredibly simple and effective to use.

Lewin’s Force Field Analysis Model

The best way to identify the forces and factors that support or work against the ideal state that you’re trying to change (or an issues or problem you’re solving), is through the following simple diagram:

Lewin’s Force Field Analysis Model – clearly showing the forces for and against a project. The bigger the forces, the bigger the arrows on the diagram above.

Using this one template, you can map out all the factors that are driving positive outcomes to what you want to achieve, and those that are pushing against you achieving said outcome.

In the middle is the intended ideal state or solution you’re trying to achieve. This is a specific statement written in this box.

On the left side of the model, all the factors that positively affect change are highlighted.

On the right, the opposite: those factors that are pushing against the change.

Each factor is scored as to the strength of their influence… and the total score for each the positives and negatives are totalled. This gives a picture as to how powerful each force is in relation to making the change happen and stick.

As the factors are already listed, the next task is to identify actions to overcome the following:

  • Strengthen the positive factors and make them even more influential
  • Weaken or eliminate the negative factors

By following these two actions, you are pushing the balance of power to the positive side and ensuring the ideal state happens and is sustained.

The Benefits of Force Field Analysis

By working on one template you and your team can do the following:

  • See all the positives and negatives of a situation – so they can easily be compared
  • Forces the team to think about all the aspects of making a desired change permanent
  • Encourages the team to score each factor, in terms of their positive and negative factors

The reality is that there will always be driving forces that make change very attractive. Likewise, there will be restraining forces that work against any change; keeping things just as they are. You have to set about finding them, first.

Lewin’s Force Field Analysis – Example

Let’s suppose that i wanted to increase my presentation and public speaking skills. If i can do this, i could have a positive effect on:

  • My career – i will be more influential and be able to present on complex topics, easily, whilst helping sell more business
  • My team – contributing to team goals
  • My Company – Be able to provide more value and express simple solutions to clients

At present, i’m terrified of public speaking and so i create a Force Field Analysis to see my strengths and weaknesses… Here are the generic steps to implementing one…

Step 1: Define Your Reason for Change or Improvement Idea

Write this down in the ‘ideal state’ section. Make it detailed and describe what you want to achieve.

Step 2: Brainstorm the Forces That are Driving You Towards This Ideal State

These forces could be both internal or external forces. But they will be positively driving you towards the desired change you want.

Internal drivers could be:

  • Internal processes
  • Machinery and equipment
  • People’s attitudes and commitment
  • Morale and skills

External drivers could be:

  • The unpredictable economic environment
  • Shifting market trends
  • Consumer patterns

There are a lot more to get your team to brainstorm and uncover. Expose those drivers.

Once you have as many as the team can muster, populate each one on the left side of the matrix.

Here are my example driving forces:

Tip: Whilst you can use an excel template, it’s always best to use a flip-chart, so you can engage your team in a mini interactive workshop.

Step 3: Brainstorm the Forces Against Change

Identify the forces that will restrain movement towards your ideal state. Brainstorm as many factors that could pull you away from your ideal state or change.

Again, these can be internal or external. Here are some examples:

Internal drivers could be:

  • Current culture
  • Current leadership styles
  • Fear of failure

External factors could be:

  • Current relationships with partners
  • Legislative restrictions
  • Customer requirements
  • Legacy agreements to suppliers or customers

Once you have brainstormed as many as you can, populate them into the right hand side of the force field document.

Here’s my restraining forces…

Step 4: Assign Scores

Now it’s time to score each factor in relation to their impact for the ideal state… or away from it.

Use a scoring of 1 to 5. 1 being weak influence; 5 being a strong influence.

In this example, the driving forces outweigh the restraining forces by 30:29. It’s time to get to work to tip the balance and reduce those high scoring barriers.

Step 5: Prioritise Forces and Take Action

Once you’ve completed your force field analysis, it’s time to do something with the information.

There are two options to take from this analysis:

  1. Decide on whether to move ahead with the project or not – do the restraining forces far outweigh the driving forces? Does it look a plausible project to chase?
  2. Work on increasing the chances of success – Most people opt to just strengthen the positives. But simply pushing these can often have an opposite effect.

It’s often more helpful to work on removing the barriers, first. This helps you create a critical mass to break the bottleneck of things that would work against your project. (As opposed to just working on the good reasons to do it).

Agree with the team, what actions to take to tip the balance in favour for the project. Focus on clear actions, owners and timescales.

Tip: Try to agree actions through group consensus. Tools to help do this, would be ranking methods, nominal group technique and multivoting.

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