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What are Kurt Lewin’s Freeze Phases? | Video

What are Kurt Lewin's Freeze Phases? | Video

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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Organizational Change

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.

Three Steps on the Journey of 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.

Driving Forces and Restraining Forces

Lewin said we are subject to a range of forces within our environment

  • Driving Forces, which promote change, and
  • Restraining Forces, which hinder it.

The restraining forces consist of:

  • Our inner resistance to change
  • Our desire to conform to what we perceive to be the established social norms.

Before we can start to change, we need to overcome these restraining forces. Only then can the driving forces can start to take hold.

The Three Freeze Phases

1. Unfreezing

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.

2. Changing

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.

3. Freezing (or Refreezing)

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.

The Legacy of Lewin’s Freeze Phases

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.


In ‘Transitions’ and ‘Managing Transitions’, William Bridges articulated a similar 3-stage model of transitions. His stages were:

  1. Letting go
  2. Neutral zone
  3. New beginning

Whilst Lewin’s work is rarely read, Bridges’ books have been reprinted for the last 40 years.

The freeze phases model is immensely valuable…

It focuses us on how to move people through change, and has the two principal merits of a good model. It is:

  • Simple – three freeze phases – and two forces
  • Useful – in predicting events and planning outcomes

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About the Author Mike Clayton

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 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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