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.

Concept Overview– The Bridges Transition Model, developed by William Bridges, is a framework for understanding and managing the emotional and psychological aspects of transitions and change, particularly in organizational contexts. This model recognizes that change often involves a process of endings, neutral zones, and new beginnings, each of which requires different strategies and support. It emphasizes the importance of addressing the emotional and human aspects of change alongside the practical and structural aspects.
Three Stages– The Bridges Transition Model is structured around three distinct stages: 1. Endings: In this stage, individuals and teams must acknowledge and let go of the old ways, routines, or structures that are being replaced. It can involve grief, resistance, and uncertainty as people say goodbye to the familiar. 2. Neutral Zone: The neutral zone is a period of ambiguity and exploration. It’s a time when the old is gone, but the new is not yet fully formed. Creativity and innovation often emerge during this phase, but it can also be marked by anxiety and discomfort. 3. New Beginnings: In the final stage, individuals and teams embrace the new reality and start to develop a sense of stability and direction. It’s a time of commitment and energy as people actively engage with the changes.
Role of Leadership– Effective leadership during transitions involves recognizing the emotional challenges people face and providing support and guidance through each stage of the model. Leaders must communicate a clear vision for the future, offer empathy and understanding during endings, foster creativity and experimentation in the neutral zone, and celebrate successes in the new beginnings.
Applications– The Bridges Transition Model is applied in various contexts: 1. Organizational Change: It helps leaders and change managers navigate transitions during restructuring, mergers, or process changes. 2. Career Transitions: Individuals use the model to manage career changes and personal development. 3. Life Transitions: It aids in coping with major life changes such as retirement, relocation, or loss. 4. Team Development: Teams can apply the model to adapt to new roles, goals, or structures.
Benefits– The model offers several benefits: 1. Improved Change Management: It provides a structured approach to change management that addresses the emotional and psychological aspects of transitions. 2. Reduced Resistance: Acknowledging and supporting endings can reduce resistance to change. 3. Enhanced Creativity: The neutral zone encourages creativity and innovation. 4. Smooth Transition: By managing the emotional aspects of change, the model helps organizations and individuals make smoother transitions.
Challenges– Challenges in applying the Bridges Transition Model include the need for effective communication, empathy, and patience during the different stages. Some individuals and organizations may resist the model’s focus on addressing emotions and may prioritize practical aspects of change.

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.

Key Highlights

  • Introduction of Bridges Transition Model: The Bridges Transition Model was introduced by William Bridges in his book “Managing Transitions” in 1999. This model focuses on the psychological aspects of organizational change and how employees transition through different stages in response to change.
  • Framework for Managing Change: The Bridges Transition Model offers a framework for effectively managing organizational change by understanding and supporting employees through the emotional and psychological journey that change entails.
  • Transition vs. Change: One of the main distinctions of this model is its focus on transition rather than change. Change refers to the external event that occurs, while transition encompasses the internal process that individuals go through as they adapt to the change.
  • Employee Experience: Bridges emphasized that the psychological transition experienced by employees during change is often more challenging than the actual implementation of the change itself. Leaders are advised to show empathy and acknowledge employees’ emotions during this process.
  • Three Phases of the Model:
    • Endings: In this phase, employees are guided to let go of the old ways and embrace the impending change. People may experience emotions like sadness, frustration, or relief. Effective communication and support are crucial during this phase.
    • Neutral Zone: This phase is a transitional period between the old and the new. Employees might experience uncertainty, stress, and skepticism. Encouraging creativity and innovation is important to help employees adapt to new systems.
    • New Beginnings: The final phase marks the establishment of new systems and procedures as the norm. Employees may feel a mix of energy, relief, uncertainty, or hesitation. Leaders need to provide clarity, purpose, and motivation to help employees thrive in this new phase.
  • Employee Buy-In: The Endings phase is particularly crucial as it sets the tone for employee buy-in. Successfully navigating this phase increases the likelihood of successful change implementation.
  • Emphasis on Mindset: The model underscores the importance of employees’ positive mindset and emotional well-being during the transition. Leaders need to acknowledge emotions, address concerns, and provide the necessary support.
  • Supporting Employee Transition: The Bridges Transition Model offers guidance to leaders on how to support employees at different stages of transition, facilitating a smoother change process.

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

Organizational Structures

Siloed Organizational Structures


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.



Open Organizational Structures




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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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 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 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 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 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 (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 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’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 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 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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