Kurt Lewin’s Freeze Phases is one of those models that every change agent and Project Manager should be aware of.
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Kurt Lewin did the first systematic work on organizational change. And it remains valid. So, an understanding of this model is vital for any Project Manager who is responsible for a project that will create organizational or cultural change.
Among Kurt Lewin’s many contributions to our understanding of organizational life is a three-part model of change. It has come to be known as the Freeze Phases model.
Lewin said we are subject to a range of forces within our environment
The restraining forces consist of:
Before we can start to change, we need to overcome these restraining forces. Only then can the driving forces can start to take hold.
Unfreezing established patterns and structures. We challenge current attitudes and beliefs – even values – and offer alternatives. As a result, people start to relax from their restraining forces, ready for change. This is not trivial. Resistance can be powerful, and people may express their resistance in a less that respectful manner.
Here, we lead people through the transition. It is a time of uncertainty and even confusion, as they struggle to create a clear idea of the new thinking that will replace the old. The plasticity of response means that good leadership is essential.
Eventually, a new understanding will emerge. Lewin’s third phase is freezing (sometimes refreezing) the new ways of being into place, to establish a new mindset. During this phase, people adapt to the changed reality. They start to find ways to take advantage of the opportunities it offers. Alternatively, they make a decision to opt-out of the change and move on.
Note that Lewin’s use of the term ‘phases’ doesn’t mean he was referring to three static stages. Lewin was clear that the phases represent parts of a continuous process.
Whilst Lewin’s work is rarely read, Bridges’ books have been reprinted for the last 40 years.
It focuses us on how to move people through change, and has the two principal merits of a good model. It is:
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Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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