Equifinality

Published: February 6, 2013

A widely respected Fortune 500 company has decided to sponsor a race. It's a race to high performance. Although the winners will be judged by achieving common business goals, the route each team takes to get there is up to them. Each of the forty teams in the race will have a different starting point.

In sociology circles, the concept of equifinality is commonly used. Simply, it means that there are many paths to the same destination. In athletic contests, every competitor comes to the race with different strengths, training, and historical baggage. They may be running the same distance and have the same finish line, but they each have different advantages, interferences, and strategies.

In business environments, each team is charged with delivering on specific targets and achieving defined results. However, there is often wide variance in leadership style, talent, competency, motivation, focus, discipline, and interpersonal dynamics within the membership of the team. These intangibles ultimately empower or disable the team’s performance. In the end, the race will be won by the healthiest team – the team least encumbered by the politics of human interaction.

When this company decided to sponsor a performance challenge to their forty top teams, they understood the playing field would not be level. Some of these teams were struggling with recent turnover. Others were fighting the effects of complacency that naturally followed a stellar year. Still others were acting risk-averse at a time that called for innovation. A few of the teams were mired in resistance to change. In each group, a set of unique circumstances colored their approach to the starting line.

Prior to the beginning of the race, baseline data will be collected. Clear business outcome metrics will be communicated before the start of the contest. Officially, the race commences at the end of the first calendar quarter. Each team will have the advantage of their team effectiveness metrics to shape their tactics and strategy. Organizational wellness goals will be mapped to business deliverables. Each team will chart their course based on the recommendations arising from the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities unveiled in their baseline team effectiveness assessment. Results will be measured and winners will be announced at the conclusion of the third quarter. The final quarter of the fiscal year will be devoted to implementing the lessons learned from the contest to ignite a strong finish to the 2013 sales cycle.

Equifinality. There are many paths to the same destination. Strong organizations take an active approach to the health and wellness of their teams and employ that knowledge to their business performance. In this company’s case, there will be no less than forty distinct methods to achieve the same goal.

On your mark, get set, GO!

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 College 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.