Imagine you are sitting on a motorcycle and revving the engine while applying the brakes on the front wheel.
The rear wheel keeps spinning but the motorcycle is not going anywhere. To move forwards, would you keep the brakes on and rev the engine even more, or would you ease off the brakes? If you chose the latter option, you have just embraced the principles of force-field analysis. The method in a nutshell:
In relation to a goal, there are driving forces and there are restraining forces. These forces may create a deadlock in the process of reaching the goal. When choosing between increasing the driving forces or reducing the restraining ones, then this method suggests the latter is the best strategy. At the very least it is where you should start, because if we reduce any restraining forces, the existing driving forces will become dominant and break the equilibrium. In the case of the motorcycle the brakes will be released, and you can speed off towards your destination.
To see how you might apply the principles of force-field analysis, imagine implementing a change process. Let’s say you head an organisation where collaboration between teams is not as effective as it could be. We will therefore assemble the management team and conduct a force-field analysis with the goal of creating better cooperation between teams.
Driving forces might include:
Customers have pointed out problems with delivery due to a lack of internal cooperation
Employees want to positively benefit their customers
Employees across teams-boundaries get along well
Restraining forces might include:
Incentive schemes do not reward collaboration within the organisation.
Managers are more focused on their individual responsibilities than on the company’s overall goal and delivery
Lack of formal processes between teams for sharing information, collaboration, and coordination.
If we go back to our example of the motorcycle, do you think it is better to try and accelerate? Maybe by gathering employees and emphasising to them that customers are dissatisfied, underline that this cannot be tolerated and reiterate how important it is for employees to collaborate across team boundaries? Or does it seem more sensible to ease off the brakes? For example, by reviewing how people are incentivised, getting the managers to agree on the common responsibility and implementing new processes for collaboration between teams?
I have never known an organisation that operates completely friction-free, so you probably already are facing a challenge where a force-field analysis might be of help. Before starting any analysis, you need to clarify your goal. This could, for example, be to increase sales, reduce staff turnover, get better results in customer surveys etc. Also, I suggest you apply the following basic assumption: Most people want to contribute in the workplace. If they do not, then there is something curbing their good intentions. By recognising this, you are already well on your way to identifying systemic restraining forces.
Force-field analysis also works well in coaching. For my own part, the degree to which I strictly apply the method is determined by the degree of complexity in the case. But for the most part I use this method more as a mindset and simply ask what might restrain my client. Smart, right?
The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.