Lewin’s Driving and Restraining Forces

Lewin’s Driving and Restraining Forces Explained

In addition to him identifying three phases Opens in new window (unfreezing, movement, and refreezing) through which the change agent must proceed before a planned change is implemented, Lewin also theorized that people maintain a state of status quo or equilibrium by the simultaneous occurrence of both driving forces (facilitators) and restraining forces (barriers) operating within any field.

Driving forces advance a system toward change; restraining forces impede change.

  • The forces that push the system toward change are driving forces, whereas the forces that pull the system away from change are called restraining forces.

Lewin’s model maintained that for change to occur, the balance of driving and restraining forces must be altered. The driving forces must be increased or the restraining forces decreased.

Driving forces may include a desire to please one’s boss, to eliminate a problem that is undermining productivity, to get a pay raise, or to receive recognition.

Restraining forces include conformity to norms, an unwillingness to take risks, and a fear of the unknown. For example, a person wishing to return to school must reduce the restraining forces or increase the driving forces to alter the present state of equilibrium. There will be no change or action until this occurs. Therefore, creating an imbalance within the system by increasing the driving forces or decreasing the restraining forces is one of the tasks required for a change agent.

Numbers of factors affect successful implementation of planned change. Many good ideas are never realized because of poor timing or a lack of power on the part of the change agent. For example, both organizations and individuals tend to reject outsiders as change agents because they are perceived as having adequate knowledge or expertise about the current status, and their motives often are not trusted.

Therefore, there is more widespread resistance if the change agent is an insider. The outsider change agent, however, tends to be more objective in his or her assessment, whereas the inside change agent is often influenced by a personal bias regarding how the organization functions.

Likewise, some greatly needed changes are never implemented because the change agent lacks sensitivity to timing. If the organization or the people within that organization have recently undergone a great deal of change or stress, any other change should wait until group resistance decreases.