The Right Questions + Diverse Perspective = Creative Engagement Solutions

Last week, I served on the judging panel of the first-ever employee engagement hackathon, Hack the Experience. It was an exciting and fun event, and I learned some valuable lessons about how groups can generate creative solutions to improve employee engagement in a short amount of time.

Nearly 100 communications, human resources, training and development, OD and CSR professionals attended the one-day hackathon held in San Francisco. The participants were grouped into 12 teams. Each team worked on a specific challenge of the employee lifecycle–from recruiting, onboarding, and communications to career development and succession planning.

Participants had four and a half hours to discuss the challenge they chose, brainstorm solutions to the challenge, and create a presentation of their hack. They then presented their ideas to a panel of judges, who scored each team based on four criteria: innovation, feasibility, impact, and presentation.

In the morning, I visited each team along with fellow judge, David Mann, Vice President of Learning and Internal Communication at AAA. We observed, listened, and provided feedback when appropriate. We heard participants sharing their ideas and experiences and questioning assumptions. We saw colorful post-it notes as well as elaborate diagrams on the walls. Ideas were flying. The energy in the room was high. Participants were having fun and showing respect for each other.

Participants "flipped" their seating positions to see the presentation of "Flip the Paradigm."
Participants “flipped” their seating positions to see the presentation of “Flip the Paradigm.”

The panel of judges was very impressed by the level of collaboration among team members, many of whom just met that morning. We were delighted to see the creative solutions generated and the high quality of presentations. Highlights included: two skits, a dance, props made from lunch boxes and an umbrella (it was pouring that morning), and a mandarin orange juggler. Among the themes of the solutions were storytelling, “flipping” the paradigm, and that day-one of employee engagement really starts before the first day of work.

So, what did I learn from this judging experience?

Diversity boosts creativity. Members of each team have different backgrounds and came from different organizations. Their diverse experience and perspective enriched their discussions. In addition, all participants were respectful of each other’s opinions, were willing to play, and worked towards a common goal of creating a winning solution.

Great solutions can be generated in a short time. When people have the freedom to experiment, the safety to fail and try new approaches, and the explicit instruction to be creative to solve a set of problems, they can generate great ideas that can be implemented right away.

Presentation does not mean PowerPoint. Even though we provided a PowerPoint template for all participants, not all used it. Since participants knew that presentation was a part of the scoring criteria, some teams went all out to make their point. It was memorable, humorous, and high impact. The presenters became the focus and PowerPoint was used just as a supplement, as it should be.

Hackathon generates high energy. By design, participants at a hackathon will emerge highly energized because they are involved in solving specific problems and creating solutions. Likewise, participants at the hackathon were energized by the ideas they heard from each team. A few of them told me that they were going to implement some of the ideas at their organization.

Don’t let the energy fizzle. The most important next step after a hackathon is follow-up and implementation. Don’t let the energy fizzle. Create an action plan, identify resources, and start implementing the ideas soon. Show your proof of concepts, create small wins, and continue to energize your employees by involving them in solving problems.

Would you create a hackathon within your organization to encourage a flow of creative ideas about employee engagement or another workplace issue? What are the potential barriers? How would you make it work for you?

Comment, or tweet me @Novacrea.