Whenever I am facilitating a team that is facing a potential decision, I suggest using a process tool called a “Force-Field Analysis.”
First developed by American social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, the basic premise behind the Force Field Analysis is that “an issue is held in balance by the interaction of two opposing sets of forces – those seeking to promote change (driving forces) and those attempting to maintain the status quo (restraining forces).”
I use this tool to create a discussion around:
- What the potential decision is – the “future state”
- The driving forces that would push us/the organization toward that future state
- The restraining forces that would keep us from moving toward that future state
From that discussion, you’ll have better clarity and insight into the potential success of changing from the current state into the desired state. Once the decision has been made, it feeds into the action plan for change and communications.
- Create the Visual. Grab a flipchart, whiteboard, or even a blank sheet of paper for a small team. Down the center of the paper, draw a line. That line is the “current state.” On the left side, write “Driving Forces” on the top with an arrow going from left to right. On the right side, write “Restraining Forces” on the top with an arrow going from right to left.
- Confirm Future State. Ensure the team understands what the “future state” or “desired state” is. You may even want to have a second flipchart placed to the right of the first flipchart as the driving forces will visibly push that current state line over to the desired state!
- Brainstorm Driving Forces. Brainstorm all the types of forces that are driving the organization to make the change. These can be internal drivers you can control and external drivers that you cannot control.
- Brainstorm Restraining Forces. Brainstorm all the types of forces that are keeping (or restraining) the organization from making the change. Again, these can be internal drivers you can control and external drivers that you cannot control.
Tips for Brainstorming a Force-Field Analysis
- Start with Driving Forces First, but if someone brings up a Restraining Force, just write it down under the Restraining Forces column and then refocus on the Driving Forces. (It is not uncommon for a driving force to also be a restraining force!)
- Prime the Pump. Try these prompts to keep the brainstorming juices flowing:
- What are the benefits of this change? What are the consequences if we remain the same?
- Who supports the change and why? Who is against it and why?
- What resources (people, time, costs) will be needed to make the change be successful?
- What are the threats, liabilities, and limitations to the desired state?
- Optional: Assign Scores. If you believe the team needs processing time AND you literally have more time, you MAY want to assign “scores” to each force. For example, you can assign a score of High, Medium, and Low, color coding each idea with a colored marker. Or allocate a score using a numerical scale e.g. 1=extremely weak and 10 = extremely strong. Rewrite each of the forces by listing the strongest to the weakest. However, I find that this step can be tedious and a bit duplicative to the conversation.
- Step Back and Assess. At this point, it is helpful to step back and look at the two lists:
- Are the restraining forces stronger than the driving forces?
- Is one list “longer” or “shorter” than the other? Why do you think that is so?
- Is there anything unremovable – a “show-stopper” – in the Restraining Forces column – something of a legal, ethical, moral, or safety issue that would prevent the team from moving forward? If you truly have a show-stopper, select another solution.
- Can we change any factors to improve our chances of success? Are there any driving forces that we can strengthen or opposing forces we can weaken? Keep in mind that when you increase or decrease a force, it may increase, decrease or even create new forces!
- Decide. Is this a decision that the organization truly believes can be successful? At this point, the answer may be intuitively obvious. However, you may need to use other decision-making tools to dig a little deeper.
- Leverage Your Force-Field Analysis. If you decided to move forward with the decision, the Driving Forces will be an invaluable asset in the creation of your marketing plan/talking points to gain organizational commitment – and the Restraining Forces will be the basis for your risk mitigation strategy.
The Force-Field Analysis can be used at any level (personal, project, organization, network, enterprise) to visualize the forces that may work in favor and against change initiatives. The resulting diagram helps the team picture the “tug-of war” between the forces around a given issue.
Hopefully, this gives you some guidance on how to create a force-field analysis.
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action. Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.