Changing Groups: K. Lewin

Changing is hard. For everyone. Under any circumstance. But, it’s possible and Kurt Lewin tried to show us how.

Behind every group, no matter its goal or how it was created, there is a mentality, a culture. This will unite the group and its elements and it’s not easily changed, but sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to do so.

Lewin studied the way changing could be practiced and how important it might be, in everyday work with groups and communities.

 

Method

According to Lewin there is a very specific method to provide an efficient change within a group. You need to increase the forces there are favorable to the changing, or, on the other hand, decrease the forces that are opposite to the change.

It will produce a certain unbalance inside the group and the search for the previous balance will be the catalyst for change.

Lewin considered that decreasing the opposite forces would have a more effective result, since that would provide less tension inside the group, decreasing, in a way, a more aggressive or emotional reaction from its members.

Phases of Social Changing

So, based on all of this, Lewin established that there are three phases that occurring while working on changing a social behavior.

Unfreezing

It consists in a non-directive discussion, until reaching a breaking point in order to promote a new behavior.

Moving

The changing phase itself.

Freezing

After you reach the desired behavior, it becomes necessary to keep reinforcing it, so it can be maintained.

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K. LEWIN And the GROUP’S DYNAMIC

Kurt Lewin is universally recognized as the founder of modern social psychology, but his work started way before that.

As many others before him, Lewin began by studying the individual’s behavior, but as his research was evolving, he’d rather study the group phenomenon itself and its behavior. He saw the individual psyche from a structuralist perspective, in which, each person is part of an environment that happens within a group.

He had many influences from the Gestalt School, so Lewin believed that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” which, of course, influenced his work.

So, in his theory, he choose to pick some physics concepts (such as tension, valency, strength, force field, barrier, etc.) as a way to explain what tends to happen inside a group. Below, I present some key concepts, that will hopefully help you understand his theory a little more.

Group Dynamic Key Concepts, according to Lewin

Cohesion

This is an important concept within a group, is the force that keeps its elements together and fights the opposite forces, that are trying to disintegrated it. At this point is where the relationship between “me” and “us” appears.

Group’s Communication

There are several instances of communication present within the group and among different groups, pressed by social reality and natural evolution of the group.

Group’s Decision

This is what we call social status quo. It’s a dynamic process that goes through many phases: the changing desire, the difficulty found in its realization (since the behavior that should be changed is too settled in the whole group), and, in the end, the relative efficiency of the changing.

It’s really important in many fields of action, such as, for example, trying to change eating habits.

Leadership

Lewin defined 3 styles of leadership and it had practical repercussions in the way some groups are commanded, such as, school or within some companies.

The three styles are the autocratic leader (you have an authoritarian leader, that makes all the decisions by himself, without consulting the group), the liberal leader (a person who doesn’t give much guidance to the group and is generally very permissive) and, finally, the democratic leader (he doesn’t command the group, instead working with all of the elements, trying to find the best option going towards the greater good of the group).

Group’s Functioning

Here stand the phenomenons of interaction and interdependency within the group, latter one being sort of the ‘energy and forces’ system that actually makes the group act.

Each member does not really see himself as a motor for change to occur, which is in fact a way of defending himself and minimizing the impact of his actions. This is the main point to work on, when we actually do need to change something.