Force Field Analysis: What Is It and Why Use It


Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

No, I’m not talking about something out of Star Wars here. When we have to make a decision, one of the methods we use is a T-chart, which is basically making a large T on a piece of paper and listing the pros on one side and the cons on another. The idea being if the pros / advantages / benefits outweigh the cons / disadvantages / negatives then we should do it. Otherwise, we shouldn’t.

Today, I want to share an alternative to the T-chart. One that might offer a better assessment of the decision and lead to better outcomes. It’s called a force field analysis. Quick history lesson: the force field analysis was developed by social psychologist Kurt Lewin back in the 1950s. Lewin is also the author of the 3-step change model (Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze)

Back to the force field analysis. When we’re trying to make a decision or set a goal, there are “forces” that drive us to do it and “forces” that restrain us. Hence, when we create the T-chart of pros and cons, that’s what we’re doing. We’re listing the driving forces (pros) and restraining forces (cons). 

But here’s where the force field and T-chart differ. In a T-chart, we might be tempted to view all pros and cons as equal. So, if we have 10 pros and 1 con, we might say “let’s do it” because there are more benefits than negatives. The reality could be that the sum of the 10 benefits is less than the 1 negative. 

In a force field analysis, we acknowledge that all driving forces and restraining forces are not equal. So, in addition to listing the advantages and disadvantages, we assign them a strength (aka “force”). Then, we can evaluate the results.

  • If the driving forces outweigh the restraining forces, then it makes sense to proceed with the decision or goal. 
  • If the restraining forces outweigh the driving forces, then we could decide not to proceed. But there’s also another option. Is it possible that we can reduce the “force” of the restraining forces? Meaning, can we minimize the negative and change the situation, so the driving forces are back on top?
  • Lastly, it’s possible that the forces could be relatively equal. If they are, is there a way to improve or maximize the impact of the driving forces so they outweigh the restraining ones.  

The advantage of a force field analysis is in evaluating the “force” of the items. There might be decisions that have lots of little disadvantages – but that’s the point – they’re small. If you only look at the number of them, it could keep the organization from pursuing a great opportunity. Granted, sometimes a lot of little disadvantages are a red flag. That’s why the force field analysis is such a great tool. Because we can not only evaluate the quantity of forces, but the strength of them. 

One of the other things a force field analysis can do, is help us with planning. Let’s say we do a force field analysis to merge with another company. In looking at the benefits and negatives, now we can prioritize those forces that we need to address. We might want to address large forces early in the transition and smaller ones later. Or we want to address large forces in person and smaller ones can be done via a video call or via email. Establishing the strength of the force allows us to focus on the right things

While I’ve presented today’s article on organizational decision making, a force field analysis also works for individual decisions. An employee is considering a job change – maybe they’ve been offered an internal promotion and an external opportunity. A force field analysis might help evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each opportunity.

I have found force field analysis to be a helpful tool when making important decisions. I even created a useful document that I share with clients and I want to share it with you.

Decision making is an important skill. When we make bad decisions, they could weigh on us for a long time. Having good decision-making tools can help us ask the right questions so we make the best decisions possible.

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Orlando, FL

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