Applying Lewin`s concept of `unfreezing` to today`s world

Friday 10th
13:45 – 15:30
The individual perspective in OD: Applying Lewin's concept of 'unfreezing' to today's world
Hannah Azizollah, Hannah Azizollah Ltd., Rhonda Miller, Rhonda Miller Associates
Maximum Capacity 24
This workshop aims to build skills in helping others through the first and most critical of the 3 stages
of the change process, ‘Unfreezing’, as defined by Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist, and one of the
founding figures in organisation development. The model will be examined, particularly in relation to
the individual, and participants will have a chance to practice some of the skills required to facilitate
change within the unfreezing stage.
This workshop will cover an overview of Kurt Lewin’s 3-stage change theory (unfreezing, changing,
freezing) and Edgar Schein’s further development of the psychological processes that individuals
need to experience within each stage, as well as recent critiques of the model.
The workshop will expand on the unfreezing stage.
Skill development practice will include a demonstration and a short practice session. The aim is to
understand the underlying mechanisms that support successful change interventions.
Our approach will be to cover the theory behind the model to enable participants to get to grips with
it in a lively way. The practical exercises will bring the theory to life using coaching as the medium of
engaging with individuals. We see the short workshop as a combination theory and skill building.
Introduction to the Theories
There are two underlying theories on which this workshop is based.
Lewin’s model states that organisational change involves a move from one static state via a gradual
shift, to another static state. The model, consists of a process of 1) unfreezing, 2) moving and 3)
A major part of Lewin's model is the idea that psychological change is a journey rather than a simple
step. He saw behavioural change as a slow process; however, he did recognize that under certain
circumstances, such as a personal or organisational crisis, the forces can shift quickly and
profoundly. In these situations, established behaviours break down and the status quo is no longer
viable; new patterns can rapidly emerge and a new equilibrium is formed
Enlarging on Lewin’s ideas, Schein indicated that the key to successful change ‘. . . was to recognise
that change, whether at the individual or group level, was a profound psychological dynamic
process’. (Schein, 1996) In his theory he identifies the processes necessary to successfully pass
through the 3 stages of Lewin’s process.
Individuals needs to feel:
 frustrated or dissatisfied (receive disconfirming data)
 guilt or survival anxiety
 psychologically safe
In order to take in and respond to new information individuals need to:
 redefine concepts and standards (cognitive redefinition)
 identify with a role model
 scan the environment, try out new ideas and develop new insights
To embed the new behaviours/changes, individuals need to feel that:
 there’s a fit between their new responses and their personality and attitudes
 there’s a fit between their new responses and the individuals around them
Schein and the unconscious
This workshop will focus on the first stage – how to turn the frustration and dissatisfaction that the
status quo has been disrupted into positive behaviour change.
Schein recognises that sometimes disconfirming data have existed for a long time but because of a
lack of psychological safety, the individual or organisation has avoided anxiety or guilt by denying the
data’s relevance, validity, or even its existence. “It is our capacity both as individuals and as
organizations to deny or even repress disconfirming data that makes whistle blowing or scandals
such powerful change motivators.” (Schein, 2004) . We will briefly explore the less conscious
aspects of resistance through Freud’s concept of the superego to aid understanding of denial and
repression of data.
Conference presenters will discuss the theory behind the models, and then demonstrate a coaching
session showcasing the identification of disconfirming data and addressing the issues of anxiety and
psychological safety.
Attendees would then have a chance to practice in small groups as consultants with facilitators
acting as the coachee.
Outline Agenda
Theory: about the Lewin models:
 Lewin’s 3 stages of change,
 Forcefield analysis (Importance of reducing
restraining forces
Focus on psychological processes involved in
The role of the unconscious during change and its
impact on unfreezing
Skills required by change agents to help
Demonstration by facilitators using these skills
Practice session with small groups of participants
as consultants and facilitators as coachee
Lewin, K. (1952) “Group Decisions and Social Change” in Readings in Social Psychology, New York:
Henry Holt.
Schein, E. (2004) Organizational Culture and Leadership. Jossey - Bass.
Schein, E. (1996) "Kurt Lewin's Change Theory in the Field and in the Classroom: Notes toward a
Model of Managed Learning." Systems Practice, 9: 27-47.