The Dialogue Bridge

Published: July 8, 2020

I spent the summers between college years working on a bridge construction crew. We built spans that connected land over rivers, roads and railroad tracks. We enabled travel between locations previously separated by chasms. Each job was its own engineering masterpiece. The destination was always clear, but the path always required negotiation and dialogue. Many lessons learned in those years have been resurrected in recent months.

The challenge is to connect things that have never before been joined with an innovative structure that allows an equitable flow in both directions. Both sides have to find some common ground even though they face significant obstacles. While there may be a natural inclination to see the challenge from one vantagepoint, dialogue opens new pathways for consideration. 

Some dialogues can devolve into free-for-alls. That’s okay if the purpose is simply brainstorming. Eventually, the exchange needs some shepherding. Can we agree on the definition of the problem? What has been done in the past to solve it? Does our team culture permit safe exploration? Are we open to trying something different? Once we figure out a path, are we committed to taking it? Are we willing to accept all of the consequences arising from bridging the span between us?

Problem identificationAn impasse or an obstacle creates a need for which there is not yet a clear solution.
ResearchInvestigation unfolds to determine current best practice or the need for a different approach.
DiscoveryExploration and experimentation inevitably lead to new opportunities.
InventionFresh ideas are proposed for testing and implementation.
InnovationTheory finds application, and insights become action.
ImprovementA seemingly unsolvable problem is addressed resulting in a better mousetrap, a cure for cancer, drastic enhancements in efficiency or a meeting of the minds.

Dialogue is the best fuel for innovation. Growth and change are empowered by connecting our brains, aspirations, perspectives and priorities with others. We don’t have to see things the same way. We just need to be willing to build a bridge from one side to the other and allow travel in both directions. 

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.