More walls than bridges are built in the world. It seems that it is much easier to build walls. Buildings, after all, are made of walls, so we are used to making structures that consist of walls. Walls are used to contain things; walls are used as boundaries, to show the limits; walls are the things that keep us safe. They keep out the storms and hold back the things that would do us harm. Walls are good things. They serve a very important purpose.

Bridges are also built. As a toddler, I remember watching the first major road construction project in our area. They were building highway overpasses and underpasses. I studied what they were doing, apparently pretty hard and for quite awhile. Eventually I asked my Dad a pretty good question for a three-year-old, “How are they going to get water under all those bridges?” For me, bridges were built to go over one type of obstacle: water. Those were the only type of bridges I had ever seen. Now, here were these huge bridges being built over roads and on dry land? Okay, so that must mean someone was going to bring the water under the bridges. Adults do lots of strange things; this would be one more and I couldn’t figure out how they were going to do it. I was working hard on figuring it out, but I was stumped.

Defending the Walls: Bigger, Stronger, Higher

Organizations are great at building walls. They get a lot of practice. We set up walls saying “This is so-and-so’s area of responsibility.” Whether that is a company, division, department, project, or job, we set up little boxes that say “here are the boundaries” and we work hard to stay in them or keep someone in them. We often spend our time evaluating how well people stay in those boundaries. Are they conforming and fitting in? Are they marching in step to the “norm” that has been established by the walls of behavior and expectation?

What isn’t so easy for organizations to do is to build bridges and accept behavior that is different from that which has been the norm or which has always existed within the walls. When the organization is faced with a new set of circumstances, a changing environment, or “individuality” that charges the walls of the establishment asking them to move the wall, open a door, add a window, reconfigure the organizational structure, BRIDGE the existing way of doing things and look at the way the organization could reconfigure and improve…what happens? Bigger, stronger, higher, WALLS are built.

Bridging the Gaps: Here and Now, Future State

Have you ever been at an event held at a large conference center or hotel where they can reconfigure the rooms by opening and closing various walls? They can remove panels or fold away entire walls. They can have many small rooms or one huge room that holds a multitude of people. Organizations need to be able to treat their walls the same way. But more importantly, they need to be able to see the need to not only reconfigure the walls, but also use those walls as components to build bridges. Bridges that will take them from where they are today, here and now, to where they need to grow if they are to continue to exist: the future state. Walls that hold the organization in and back will translate into stagnation and an inability to compete. Walls that lay the foundation for configuring a viable organization that is capable of bridging the existing organizational structure into one that evolves into the new organization of tomorrow are both defensive and offensive tools.

Your organization cannot be like the three-year-old who wonders how the water is going to get under the bridge. The organization has to understand that bridges and walls have to work together for more than one purpose and that individuals within the organization determine their outcomes. Experience and knowledge make the difference in understanding how these tools are used. Walls are neither good nor bad; bridges can be put on dry land or over water. They can be useful in either place. It just depends on what they are intended to do.

Water Under the Bridge

Does your organization build more walls or bridges? Do your walls keep things in or out? Are your walls barriers to success, or foundations for a viable, structured entity that is configured for the future? Are there bridges being built to nowhere? Are you building bridges over water or on dry land? Are they built toward a direction or just because there is an obstacle?

Look with a child’s eyes and see the bridge. Ask, “How am I using the bridge to surmount my obstacle?” And make sure the obstacle you are so used to seeing—the water under the bridge—is the true obstacle you are facing. Sometimes what you have always known and accepted as the problem has changed; it’s important to adjust your assumptions and perspective. Ask a different question. Get new views and ideas. Ask for input from someone else with another view of the situation. You may learn something.

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Copyright ©2008 Lea A. Strickland, F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc.

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