Does Your Organization Need a Hackathon?

In 2016 I ran two Hackathons. One for a local Learning and Development group, Association for Talent Development (ATDps) and one for a Non-Profit Organization, LINGOS. In the first one, we wanted to tackle the biggest pain points and innovate solutions for how to successfully onboard new hires in organizations. In the second one, we capped off a two-day conference where participants in the workshop had a chance to collaborate with local workplace learning thought ­leaders on ways to put the best ideas from the conference into practice.In both sessions, we came up with some solid approaches to solving problems. Treating hackathons like an ideation session with creative tools to create actionable plans yielded practical solutions with future implementations possible. In both instances, we heard some amazing results around how we could solve problems in organizations, but not only that - we heard solid plans on how organizations could implement those ideas in a low-cost, scrappy, and broad ways. At the end of the day, we brought several dozen people together for some serious fun and came away with some tangible solutions.

“The strongest solutions happen through the process, not in a moment at the end of the process”

Here is some information for you to get started on your own hackathon!What is a hackathon?I define “hackathon” very broadly:Hacking is creative problem solving. (It does not have to be about technology.)A hackathon is any event of any duration where people come together to solve problems. This could be as little as 2-4 hours, or as long as 48 hours ofParticipants form groups of about 5-10 individuals dive into problems.

What about the competitiveness and energy?Hackathons have gotten a bad rap because of some that have an unhealthy, competitive structure, and for setting unrealistic expectations. "The strongest solutions happen through the process, not in a moment at the end of the process."When you are undertaking a hackathon, remember to promote these ideas:Strengthen the community that the hackathon is forBe welcoming to new ideasProvide an opportunity for participants to learn something newProvide a space and a time for participants to make headway on problems they are interested inDon’t expect to have actually solved a problem by the end of the hackathon. Real life problems are hard! Think of the hackathon as a pit-stop on a long journey to solve problems or as a training session to prepare participants for solving problems.Since you’re not going to solve a problem, don’t put unrealistic (and unhealthy) pressure on your participants. Participants should come energized and be greeted with positive energy.


Get the most of out of HackathonsHackathons can be amazing opportunities for networking, collaboration, and innovation, but they can also be overwhelming and stressful. Remember if you are leading a hackathon to be prepared to help your audience share their interests, skills, and goals with peers. Above all, have fun and throw out ideas! 

If you are a participantDon’t be intimidated or worry that you’re crashing a party or club. Collaboration is the core of the hackathon, and people want to hear your ideas. You are on an even playing field, even if you’re teaming with veterans because everyone attends a hackathon to work together on creative and innovative ideas. Everyone wants to be a part of something cool and clever—that too, is at the heart of the hackathon.