You probably inherently understand the headline, but “bridges” implies connecting, reaching out, etc. “Trenches” implies digging in and defending your position. I got the concept from this article on Harvard Business Review, which is one of the better things they’ve put forth in months. A large percentage of the article is still bullshit, because try telling some guy with 30 years in a vertical that he needs to “build a bridge and not a trench” and he’ll probably piledrive you on the floor, but it nonetheless makes a few good points. To wit:
Entrenchment happens when an attitude, habit, or belief becomes so firmly established that it morphs from “what I believe” into “who I am,” and it makes change difficult and unlikely.
Very common in orgs, no?
Decades of research show that the perceived divisions across subgroups, sometimes called “faultlines,” can increase negative forms of conflict and decrease open communication, team commitment, innovation, and performance. The more entrenched subgroups feel, the harder it is to see across the divide and consider the perspective of the “other.” Unsurprisingly, this leads to higher potential for increased polarization and worse outcomes for the overall team.
Actually wrote about this concept just yesterday: what exactly is a “call for unity?”
Engage bridge builders. When groups are deeply entrenched, it may be useful to engage “boundary spanners,” or people who can cross boundaries and still be seen as “one of us” (for example, by sharing several identities with multiple groups). Research shows that boundary spanners can act as cultural brokers between different groups — they can “speak both languages” and be accepted by each group and actively play a role in reducing entrenchment and polarization.
Quick little story herein, actually.
Bridge builder story
By no means am I a conventionally successful person, but if I have a quality attribute, it’s probably that I can cut across a lot of different types of people and conversations with semi-relative-fluidity, assuming I am not three sheets to the wind. (Haven’t drank in about a week, so that’s cool.)
The day I turned 40 was also the day that a lot of networks started calling the Prez race for Biden (Saturday, 11/7). I had been out with my friends the night before, and on that Saturday, I went out with some of my wife’s friends late afternoon. The dudes in this circle are very conservative. I grew up pretty liberal, although I think ultimately my dad was concerned about money and voted that way often, but anyway, I’m kind of hybrid now. I’ve been in Texas six years and there’s a lot of crazy bullshit with conservatives, but they also make some good points on some topics, especially economic.
But these guys are a few shades more conservative than me, and the way this outing broke down was all females at one table, all dudes at another table, some kids running around in between. Since Biden and Harris had just “won,” I heard a lot about them being socialist, sending America down a drain, etc. I don’t like Biden; I think he’s boring and he arrived at his moment too late and the moment might be too big for him. I don’t know that much about Harris, but she doesn’t read as “socialist” to me, although perhaps I am misguided therein. But anyway, for this all to work, I had to play into those narratives and talk about Oregon legalizing drugs and how America was falling apart, etc, etc. That + 4–5 beers helped.
People need to do that more at work. Ask an IT guy what he does. Ask a HR lady what she does. Bridge the gap. Find commonalities. We are all more like than we think, regardless of race, gender, work silo, whether we put pronouns on our social media profiles, etc. Bridge gaps. It’s entirely possible to do this, even though digging trenches might offer a perverse degree of comfort since you’re surrounding yourself in the warm embrace of like-mindedness. But I don’t know how far that dog can run, ya know? Eventually someone needs to build a bridge, be that around socialism or HRIS.