Bridges Transition Model

The Bridges transition model was first introduced by William Bridges in his 1999 book Managing Transitions. The model, which is underpinned by research in human psychology, posits that an employee transitions through three stages after organizational change occurs.

Understanding the Bridges transition model

The Bridges transition model is a framework for managing organizational change based on the human response to three distinct phases.

Fundamentally, the Bridges transition model helps change management experts best support employees through the change process which is often uncomfortable and can cause a lack of productivity. 

The primary difference between this model and similar frameworks is that it focuses on transition as opposed to change. At first glance, the two terms may appear interchangeable – but there is a subtle difference.

Change is caused by an external event, is often abrupt, and occurs whether an employee wants it to happen or not. Conversely, transition tends to play out more slowly and describes the internal machinations of an employee’s mind as the change occurs.

Bridges also argued that implementing organizational change was far less difficult than the psychological transition required of employees impacted by the change. To that end, he called on leaders to display empathy and not discredit or discount employee feelings during the transitional process.

The three phases of the Bridges transition model

The three key phases of the Bridges transition model are listed below, with each phase associated with distinct positive and negative emotions.

1 – Endings 

In the first phase, leaders must help employees start to let go of the status quo and embrace a new future. Employees must identify what they are losing and also what they are keeping, as many equate change with termination or redundancy. 

This phase is characterized by sadness, frustration, and loneliness, with more positive individuals meeting change with relief, happiness, or even excitement. In any case, this is the most important phase to get right since a lack of employee buy-in may jeopardize the success of the change initiative itself.

2 – Neutral zone

The neutral zone is the phase that represents a metaphorical bridge between the old and the new. Employees can be uncertain or confused about what the future holds and may experience stress from an increased workload as they work under new systems. Other employees will display skepticism toward the initiative or anxiety about their new role, status, or identity.

This is a time when employees should be gently encouraged to break free of old ways of operating and embrace creativity, innovation, and excitement.

3 – New beginnings

In the third phase, new systems, procedures, and processes become the new normal. Some employees will be energized or relieved upon reaching this point, while others will remain uncertain, unmotivated, confused, or unwilling to commit.

For the latter group of employees, leaders can instill a sense of purpose, clearly explain their new role in the company, and outline how they can make effective and personally meaningful contributions.

Key takeaways:

  • The Bridges transition model is a framework for managing organizational change based on the human response to three distinct phases.
  • The primary difference between the Bridges model and similar frameworks is that it focuses on transition as opposed to change. Change is a sometimes abrupt event caused by an external factor that the employee does not control. Transition, on the other hand, is a gradual process that relies on a positive mindset to be successful.
  • The three phases of the Bridges transition model are endings, neutral zone, and new beginnings. The first phase is arguably the most important since it deals with fostering employee buy-in.

Read Next: Eisenhower Matrix, BCG Matrix, Kepner-Tregoe Matrix, Decision Matrix, RACI Matrix, SWOT Analysis, Personal SWOT Analysis, TOWS Matrix, PESTEL Analysis, Porter’s Five Forces.

Read Next: Organizational Structure.

Types of Organizational Structures

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Organizational Structures

Siloed Organizational Structures

Functional

functional-organizational-structure
In a functional organizational structure, groups and teams are organized based on function. Therefore, this organization follows a top-down structure, where most decision flows from top management to bottom. Thus, the bottom of the organization mostly follows the strategy detailed by the top of the organization.

Divisional

divisional-organizational-structure

Open Organizational Structures

Matrix

matrix-organizational-structure

Flat

flat-organizational-structure
In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.

Connected Business Frameworks

Portfolio Management

project-portfolio-matrix
Project portfolio management (PPM) is a systematic approach to selecting and managing a collection of projects aligned with organizational objectives. That is a business process of managing multiple projects which can be identified, prioritized, and managed within the organization. PPM helps organizations optimize their investments by allocating resources efficiently across all initiatives.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

kotters-8-step-change-model
Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter has been a thought-leader on organizational change, and he developed Kotter’s 8-step change model, which helps business managers deal with organizational change. Kotter created the 8-step model to drive organizational transformation.

Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model

nadler-tushman-congruence-model
The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model was created by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University. The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model is a diagnostic tool that identifies problem areas within a company. In the context of business, congruence occurs when the goals of different people or interest groups coincide.

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom

mckinseys-seven-degrees
McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

Mintzberg’s 5Ps

5ps-of-strategy
Mintzberg’s 5Ps of Strategy is a strategy development model that examines five different perspectives (plan, ploy, pattern, position, perspective) to develop a successful business strategy. A sixth perspective has been developed over the years, called Practice, which was created to help businesses execute their strategies.

COSO Framework

coso-framework
The COSO framework is a means of designing, implementing, and evaluating control within an organization. The COSO framework’s five components are control environment, risk assessment, control activities, information and communication, and monitoring activities. As a fraud risk management tool, businesses can design, implement, and evaluate internal control procedures.

TOWS Matrix

tows-matrix
The TOWS Matrix is an acronym for Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths. The matrix is a variation on the SWOT Analysis, and it seeks to address criticisms of the SWOT Analysis regarding its inability to show relationships between the various categories.

Lewin’s Change Management

lewins-change-management-model
Lewin’s change management model helps businesses manage the uncertainty and resistance associated with change. Kurt Lewin, one of the first academics to focus his research on group dynamics, developed a three-stage model. He proposed that the behavior of individuals happened as a function of group behavior.

Organizational Structure Case Studies

Airbnb Organizational Structure

airbnb-organizational-structure
Airbnb follows a holacracy model, or a sort of flat organizational structure, where teams are organized for projects, to move quickly and iterate fast, thus keeping a lean and flexible approach. Airbnb also moved to a hybrid model where employees can work from anywhere and meet on a quarterly basis to plan ahead, and connect to each other.

eBay Organizational Structure

ebay-organizational-structure
eBay was until recently a multi-divisional (M-form) organization with semi-autonomous units grouped according to the services they provided. Today, eBay has a single division called Marketplace, which includes eBay and its international iterations.

IBM Organizational Structure

ibm-organizational-structure
IBM has an organizational structure characterized by product-based divisions, enabling its strategy to develop innovative and competitive products in multiple markets. IBM is also characterized by function-based segments that support product development and innovation for each product-based division, which include Global Markets, Integrated Supply Chain, Research, Development, and Intellectual Property.

Sony Organizational Structure

sony-organizational-structure
Sony has a matrix organizational structure primarily based on function-based groups and product/business divisions. The structure also incorporates geographical divisions. In 2021, Sony announced the overhauling of its organizational structure, changing its name from Sony Corporation to Sony Group Corporation to better identify itself as the headquarters of the Sony group of companies skewing the company toward product divisions.

Facebook Organizational Structure

facebook-organizational-structure
Facebook is characterized by a multi-faceted matrix organizational structure. The company utilizes a flat organizational structure in combination with corporate function-based teams and product-based or geographic divisions. The flat organization structure is organized around the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, and the key executives around him. On the other hand, the function-based teams based on the main corporate functions (like HR, product management, investor relations, and so on).

Google Organizational Structure

google-organizational-structure
Google (Alphabet) has a cross-functional (team-based) organizational structure known as a matrix structure with some degree of flatness. Over the years, as the company scaled and it became a tech giant, its organizational structure is morphing more into a centralized organization.

Tesla Organizational Structure

tesla-organizational-structure
Tesla is characterized by a functional organizational structure with aspects of a hierarchical structure. Tesla does employ functional centers that cover all business activities, including finance, sales, marketing, technology, engineering, design, and the offices of the CEO and chairperson. Tesla’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, decide the strategic direction of the company, with international operations given little autonomy.

McDonald’s Organizational Structure

mcdonald-organizational-structure
McDonald’s has a divisional organizational structure where each division – based on geographical location – is assigned operational responsibilities and strategic objectives. The main geographical divisions are the US, internationally operated markets, and international developmental licensed markets. And on the other hand, the hierarchical leadership structure is organized around regional and functional divisions.

Walmart Organizational Structure

walmart-organizational-structure
Walmart has a hybrid hierarchical-functional organizational structure, otherwise referred to as a matrix structure that combines multiple approaches. On the one hand, Walmart follows a hierarchical structure, where the current CEO Doug McMillon is the only employee without a direct superior, and directives are sent from top-level management. On the other hand, the function-based structure of Walmart is used to categorize employees according to their particular skills and experience.

Microsoft Organizational Structure

microsoft-organizational-structure
Microsoft has a product-type divisional organizational structure based on functions and engineering groups. As the company scaled over time it also became more hierarchical, however still keeping its hybrid approach between functions, engineering groups, and management.

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