The Three Stages of Disruptive Change

The “three stages” model is an approach to describe the different phases of a change. It is highly simplified, and it separates an (organizational) change into three big stages. The model has been described very well in the publication “Managing Change in Organizations” by Sengupta and Bhattacharya[1] which draws the process of the three stages originally developed by Lewin (1958):


  1. Unfreezing (Stage 1)

This phase describes the destabilization of the present balance of forces in order to overcome the resistance of change. Different methods of destabilizing depend on the circumstances. They can include external or internal forces like new targets, budget or the introduction of new personnel in favor of change.[2]

  1. Change (Stage 2)

This phase describes the move of the unbalanced system into the desired direction. [3]

  1. Refreezing (Stage 3)

In this phase a new balance has to be established at the organization in order to integrate the change to the status quo. If the refreezing phase is incomplete, the change will be ineffective and pre-change behaviors will be resumed.[4]

Figure 1 Three Phase Model by Lewin


In the opinion of the author, this model potentially does not fit to a typical IT change. In the IT world, there never seems to be time for a refreezing of a specific change. Systems are at constant flux, updates and service packs come in weekly or monthly cycles, and software versions are quickly outdated. Thus Lewin’s model in the IT sector would, realistically look more like this:


Figure 2 Constant IT Change


[1] Sengupta, N.; et. Al. (2006), p.7

[2] Cp. Sinclair-Hunt, M; et. Al. (2005), p.124

[3] Cp. Sinclair-Hunt, M; et. Al. (2005), p.124

[4] Cp. Marquis, B.L.; Huston, C.J. (2008), p.169

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