Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) is known as the father of social psychology. His thinking gave rise to so many processes we take for granted today such as action research, change process theory and sensitivity training. He coined the term ‘group dynamics’, did ground-breaking work in analysing organizational culture and gave us the psychological equation B = ƒ(P, E), meaning that human behaviour is a function of the person in their environment. That seems obvious now, but it took Lewin to make it clear.

Perhaps the most useful thing Lewin came up with for mentoring is his ‘Force Field Analysis’, a tool that I use all the time in mentoring sessions in an informal, unstructured way and occasionally as a formal exercise. The FFA provides a framework for identifying the factors that influence a situation:

  • factors that drive movement toward a goal – ‘helping forces’
  • factors that block movement toward a goal – ‘hindering forces’

Lewin originally designed this for use in social situations and corporate environments, but it’s also very helpful when working with individuals who have identified a goal for themselves and now need to figure out the practical steps they might take to realise that goal. Lewin noticed that people tend to focus on individual aspects of a situation rather than seeing things as a whole.

The genius of the FFA is that it draws people to consider all the forces already at play in their situation as they seek to make progress. We are never at a standing start as we address our goals; things are already in motion. And the FFA calls people to consider not only what they have going for them, and not only what they are up against, but all of those things together. I have developed a list of the sorts of forces that mentorees and I commonly identify:

CategoryPossible items
Personal forcesgifts, skills, experience, education/qualifications, other strengths and weaknesses, stage of life, health 
Internal forcesmotivations, desires, passions, fears, sense of identity
Spiritual forcesgraces of the Holy Spirit, gifts fruit, empowerment, the Scriptures, prophetic words, healing AND ALSOthe works of the enemy, falsehood, discouragement, destructive thinking
Relational forcespeople’s actions, attitudes, words, needs, demands, generosity, support or otherwise, the nature of relationships with family, friends and associates
Organisational/institutional forcesresources, structures, obligations, responsibilities
Cultural/sub-cultural forcessocial expectations, attitudes and mores, opportunities/opposition based on gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, social status 
Material forcesfinancial, housing, location, tools and equipment

Once the forces are identified – and there may be dozens of forces at play – it’s then on to the second step of the FFA. In this step a person considers what practical steps they may be able to take to strengthen the ‘helping forces’ and to overcome the ‘hindering forces’. This step can take quite a while and should not be rushed. But if you’ve ever struggled with the options generation stage of the GROW model, you’ll appreciate how helpful the FFA is in providing a framework for coming up with a wide range of possible actions. It’s like brainstorming on steroids!

In practical terms for mentoring sessions, the final step in using the FFA is to whittle all those possible actions down to a very short list of action steps that a mentoree commits to implement in the period before their next mentoring appointment. 

If you already use something like this, I’d love you to comment on what you’ve discovered and what tips you’d have for mentors. If you haven’t come across this before I encourage you to give it a try next time you have a mentoree who needs to decide what they are going to do to make progress towards their goals.