2017

Solve Problems With Open Communication

A force field analysis helps employees meet organizational goals

by Grace L. Duffy, John Bauer and John W. Moran

This article was featured in January 2016’s Best Of Back to Basics edition.

A force field analysis is a tool that can help employees resolve issues to meet the goals of their organizations. It helps identify forces currently supporting or working against the solution of an issue, so positives can be reinforced and negatives eliminated or reduced.1

Force field analysis began as a tool to assist management and minimize barriers to change, but it quickly became a useful vehicle for facilitating at all levels of an organization. GOAL/QPC included a description of force field analysis in its Memory Jogger Series as early as 1992 and incorporated it into the first edition of The Memory Jogger II in 1994.2

What does the tool do?

A force field analysis does the following:

  • Presents the positives and negatives of a situation so they are easily comparable.
  • Considers all aspects of making the desired change.
  • Encourages agreement about the relative priority of factors on each side of the balance sheet.
  • Encourages honest reflection on the underlying roots of a problem and its solution.

The only supplies needed to perform a force field analysis are a pencil and paper, or a flip chart and marker if you're working in a large group.

How is a force field analysis created?

Start by drawing a large letter T on a piece of paper. Write the issue at hand at the top of the paper (see Figure 1). As a group, describe the ideal situation by resolving the issue, and write the resolution below the issue statement.

Figure 1

Have a facilitator work with the group to brainstorm forces leading to or preventing the ideal situation. These forces may be internal or external. List positive forces on the left side of the T and, on the right side, forces limiting movement toward the ideal state.

For example, the analysis in Figure 1 focuses on meetings starting late. Using time effectively, planning other activities so schedules are realistic, valuing members equally and publishing an agenda are all forces that support on-time meetings. Changing priorities, overcommitted schedules, low team morale and lack of meeting notice all contribute to meetings not starting on time.

Once all positive and negative forces are listed, prioritize the forces that need to be strengthened or identify the restraining forces that need to be minimized to accomplish on-time meetings. For instance, send an agenda two days before each meeting. This provides a positive structure and removes the negative force of no meeting notice. The facilitator keeps discussion going among the participants until consensus is reached on each impediment to starting meetings on time.

A versatile tool

Force field analysis can be used to analyze and assign key tasks in strategic or project planning. All levels of employees can use the tool to identify positive and negative issues in a situation. As in any planning activity, the team should identify both positive and negative forces affecting the task.3

Force field analysis encourages team members to raise questions throughout the process. These questions shouldn't be considered obstacles to successful planning, but should instead be valued and not crushed.4

Force field analysis is a powerful tool that encourages communication at all levels of management. By creating a structured environment for problem solving, it minimizes feelings of defensiveness. There is a feeling of openness about problem solving because all members of the group are focused on the issue, rather than personal agendas. Hierarchical or traditional power structures are less liable to restrict the flow of creative ideas.

Quality and improvement thrive where communication is encouraged. Force field analysis supports creative dialogue among group members. The tool is simple to use, easy to represent graphically and applicable to all levels of an organization.


References

  1. Michael Brassard, Diane Ritter and Francine Oddo, editors, The Memory Jogger II, first edition (Methuen, MA: GOAL/QPC, 1997).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Terence T. Burton and John W. Moran, The Future Focused Organization (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995).
  4. Ibid.

Grace L. Duffy is a management and performance specialist at Trident Technical College in Charleston, SC. Duffy is a Senior Member of ASQ and incoming chair of the Quality Management Division. She is also a certified quality auditor and certified quality manager.

John Bauer is president of QA/QC Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh. He is a Fellow Member of ASQ and incoming chair-elect of the Quality Management Division. Bauer is also a certified quality auditor, certified quality manager and quality systems lead auditor.

John W. Moran is senior vice president at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston. He is a Fellow Member of ASQ and current chair of the Quality Management Division. Moran is also a certified quality manager.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.


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