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How to do a Force Field Analysis – a practical guide

How to do a Force Field Analysis

Purpose of Tool

It can be used to identify those forces that both help and hinder the solution to an issue or problem so that the positives can be reinforced and/or the negatives eliminated or reduced. It can also be useful as a way of thinking about a difficult negotiation, or interpersonal relationship such as getting your daughter to do her homework. It is based on field theory which suggests that a current situation in an organization is held in quasi stability by a set of restraining and promoting forces that are at balance. By changing these forces we can change the state of the system and affect change.

Tip: In general it is often the case that senior managers wish to strengthen the promoting forces (the shout louder approach) but evidence from years of use show that the most effective way of using a force field analysis is in minimizing or eliminating the restraining forces first before considering strengthening the promoting ones.

Why use Force Field Analysis

* Easily understood and simple to use
* Presents the positive and negative side of a situation so that they can be easily compared
* Forces people to think together about all the aspects of making the desired change a permanent one by ‘locking in’ those aspects that promote stability.
* Encourages discussion and agreement on the relative priority of factors on both sides of the ‘balance sheet’ – this discussion and searching for consensus is an important benefit of the approach
* Can stimulate an honest reflection on the real underlying roots of a problem and its solution

When to use

Anytime really when you or your team faces a problem or where you need to move things along and understand what is preventing progress.

How to use

1. Establish the goal or desired situation and write it at the top of a sheet of flip chart.
2. Draw a line across the centre of the page representing the situation to be moved.
3. Along the top draw arrows representing the restraining or ‘pushing down’ hindering forces preventing progress.
4. Along the bottom draw arrows representing the motivating or ‘pushing up’ helping forces.
5. Rate the relative strength of these forces by making the arrows larger for those forces you consider more important.
6. The breakdown of the forces can then be used to explore how to reduce the number or strength of the restraining forces then increase or strengthen the helping or motivating forces.
7. Write down the actions and create and action plan to make the changes to the forces.

Skills Required

There is no special training for this tool – just good listening skills and the ability to capture comments and help the group to distill them into an action plan that minimizes/removes the negative forces and maximizes the positive forces. Force Field Analysis is best run by someone who has been involved in the topic under discussion or is familiar with the subject area.

Materials required

A flip chart and pens are required. You can also use ‘post-it’ notes instead of arrows and use a brainstorming technique such as a nominal group to derive a comprehensive list of forces before as a group posting them to a main board for discussion.

Conclusion

This tool has a long history and still maintains its utility despite its apparent simplicity. Use it when your team is blocked in some way or you need to see the wider picture in a change programme. It is an essential tool in the armoury of a consultant and despite its simplicity is a profound way of looking at an organisation.

Royston

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