Hackathons are no longer just the domain of high-tech companies. In recent years, a number of business professionals have begun realizing that a highly productive, creativity energy is often unleased during these usually informal gatherings. In fact, there’s a featured article on this topic in the November 2014 issue of Entrepreneur magazine entitled, “Problem Solved.” Perhaps just as important is the subheading that states, “Hackathons Are No Longer the Realm of Just the Tech Set.”
One thing referenced in both articles above is that creating a hackathon-type environment often proves very beneficial to companies, partly because most employees respond favorably to the “fun” and relaxed atmosphere that’s usually created. Also, the November article clearly points out, “A variety of businesses, from retail to restaurants to service industries, are organizing internal events aimed at harnessing the creative talents of their own employees to solve, or hack problems.”
This same article also notes that employee morale is often raised during hackathons, largely because every worker is encouraged to participate on a team. In fact, many workers later report a heightened interest in their daily job duties as a result of trying to help management improve how business is conducted.
Here are some additional reasons why your company may want to schedule its own hackathon.
Hackathon-Type Events Are Often Pleasantly Competitive and Highly Productive
- Employees are encouraged to form teams with others who may work in very different company departments. Also, each person’s potential contributions are assumed to be equally valuable to the team;
- Basic topics of inquiry can be determined by management in advance – or the participants can be allowed to propose specific team projects. Each group is then encouraged to choose or isolate a workplace problem or deficit and come up with solutions. (It’s often recommended that the final presentations on handling specific problems be limited to no more than about five minutes each);
- Since these events are often held away from the usual workplace setting (frequently in very casual environments) workers tend to open more and allow their creativity to flow more freely. One key article on this topic provides an excellent list of ideas to help those who want to schedule this type of event. (Note: It’s suggested that you consider picking up some type of “special event” insurance coverage if your normal business insurance won’t cover this type of gathering);
- Make sure company leaders take part. This is one reason why these events often greatly increase employee morale. When everyday workers see the highest-level officers taking part, they realize how much their own input is valued. It also helps to have these highly experienced individuals contribute their ideas within the various teams being formed;
- Make sure your serve appropriate, casual food and beverages -- and try to hold the event in a setting that offers great Wi-Fi and comfortable furniture. While many of these programs are scheduled during regular work hours, some can last a full 24 hours. (However, the Entrepreneur magazine article state that employees who cannot take part in events lasting beyond their normal working hours should never be penalized for leaving at the normal end of their personal work day.)
- Choose appropriate prizes for the teams that present the best presentations. In the Entrepreneur magazine article, one company gave the teams gifts that were actually later awarded to various social justice organizations. This left everyone feeling highly rewarded and fulfilled. Others simply arranged for a winner to be allowed to ring the NASDAQ closing bell -- or be given a “boxing champ’s belt.” Simply having your contributions recognized tends to mean more than any of the actual prizes that are awarded during most of these non-tech hackathons.
Some companies find these types of events work so well in solving problems that they schedule them at least once or twice a year.
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