Why do certain teams perform better than others at the Hackathon?

Jul 16 · 5 min read

This year, Odyssey joined forces with the University of Groningen to understand why certain teams perform better than others at the Hackathon and to improve better the Odyssey methodology. The main idea of the research is to identify the key enablers that could explain the team ranking within a Hackathon challenge and therefore, performance at the Hackathon. The first results are in (and there is more coming up this fall): what makes a team perform successfully?

The research project

The University of Groningen Center of Entrepreneurship (UGCE), together with the Department of Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior has conducted research to establish how teamwork relates to the success of innovative and entrepreneurial projects. The research took place during the 2019 edition of Odyssey, an open innovation program and the world’s biggest blockchain & AI hackathon, where 100 teams were co-creating new solutions to complex challenges with the support of an international ecosystem. You can find more details about the research process and data collection here.

Teams’ personal report

51 teams who participated in the research part of the Hackathon and provided enough information in the survey, got their personal team performance report. This dedicated report contains the average team scores and personal scores of the team, which they can compare to see the strengths and weaknesses that lead to their results.

Research conclusions — Key enablers of team performance

There are 3 categories of key enablers that could explain the team performance:

  • team composition
  • team processes
  • team orientation/affective states

Each of the enablers correlates significantly and positively with the jury members’ ranking of the teams within their Hackathon challenge. So if your team scores well on these enablers it is more likely that your team scores higher with the Odyssey jury.

Team composition. Team composition refers to the actual number of unique non-technical, technical and programming skills present within a team and the way the skills are distributed among the team members (team diversity). In other words, the more unique skills (like knowing how to program in Java, Swift, C/C++, CSS/HTML, Python, etc.) a team collectively has, the more likely it is that it will perform better. Moreover, the team is more likely to perform better if each team member possesses non-technical, technical, and programming skills that are not held by any of the other team members.

Team processes. A team is more likely to perform better at the hackathon when it has established particular internal processes. First of all, preparation is a key, as teams who invest time in understanding the challenge, tend to outperform the others. The more team members discuss who will be doing which task when at the Hackathon, the more likely it is that the team outperforms the others. Furthermore, “exploitative learning” or the team’s effort to refine and fine-tune its ideas is important for them to be able to translate their bold and creative vision into actual practical solutions.

Team orientation and affective states. This includes 3 elements: a team’s shared understanding of the solution they work on, an entrepreneurial orientation of the team, and a transactive memory system (“knowing who knows what”).

  1. Understanding the problem is characterized by the level of shared agreement and understanding that the team members have about a potential solution they are working on prior to the Hackathon.
  2. Entrepreneurial orientation includes all the processes, practices and decision-making activities that lead to the creation of a new venture. Two aspects of entrepreneurial orientation correlate with team performance: innovativeness (a team’s tendency to support new ideas and experimenting) and proactiveness (actively seeking opportunities to develop new products).
  3. A transactive memory system refers to knowing which team member has which skills and expertise. Because this helps the team to coordinate its efforts more smoothly, and therefore, improves the likeliness to perform at the Hackathon better.

So how to improve your team and team performance at the hackathon?

The following recommendations are based on the preliminary results and insights of the research, the idea of which was to identify the key enablers that correlate positively with team performance at the Odyssey Hackathon.

The most important key enabler identified in the research is selecting the team members based on having diverse and complementary skills and expertise. Secondly, having a good understanding of each other’s skills leads to better team coordination, and therefore, performance. And lastly, the team’s preparation prior to the Hackathon and entrepreneurial orientation is important to achieve better results.

In other words, if you are planning to participate in the Odyssey Hackathon 2020 (or other hackathons ;) you might want to consider to:

  • Ensure the skill diversity of your team (non-technical, technical and programming), and reach out to potential team members that could complement each other with unique expertise and skills.
  • Spend time learning about the skills that your team members possess before the Hackathon, to facilitate how well you can communicate about the challenge your team is working on, and how to potentially solve it.
  • Focus on innovative and proactive orientation in your team, and ensure good preparation to create a shared agreement and understanding of your team’s challenge and the solution you want to pursue.

What do we (Odyssey) do with these findings?

  • Skill diversity: Odyssey will evaluate its curation (team selection) method and put more emphasis on the diversity of skills among team members and their innovativeness when selecting teams for the Hackathon.
  • Odyssey in 2020 will enable the teams to prepare even better, by doing special online challenge workshops for the selected teams and questioning them specifically on their collaboration approach.
  • Odyssey together with RUG will conduct the second part of the research on team performance in autumn 2020, in order to both improve the quality of the hackathon teams and help the teams better prepare for the hackathon.

More about the Odyssey Program & Hackathon: www.odyssey.org

Follow Odyssey on Twitter, LinkedIn & Instagram.

Sign up for the newsletter to receive updates about the Odyssey Program and hackathons: http://eepurl.com/dE2XlH

Open Innovation Program & global ecosystem enabling everyone to co-create solutions to complex 21st-century challenges.

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