Hack Day @ Greenhouse — Designing an inclusive event to drive collaboration and team building.

Carolyn Jao
Jun 10 · 4 min read
Beautiful Poster by Irene Kuo

I’ve always been a big advocate of Hack Days. At a previous job I participated regularly and have always valued being able to work with something new or someone I haven’t worked with before.

I’m here to share what we’ve learned and some tips and resources for anyone who is thinking of hosting an Internal Hack Day!

1. Start by asking questions

For us here at Greenhouse we’ve been rapidly scaling our teams and while that’s exciting, sometimes cross functional/team collaboration opportunities don’t come up as naturally. That became a central focus for us as we begin shaping what our Hack Day can become.

Internally we have an R&D Culture Committee with representatives from Product, Design, and Engineering teams. As a team we worked together and sent out a survey to gauge interest and more specifics about what people are looking for outside of their day to day:

  • While many were reserved about the limited timeframe, most were excited for the opportunity to work on something different from their day to day!
  • Most people wanted to work with someone outside their team and learn something new.

2. Plan early and communicate regularly

One of the hardest parts of planning any event — picking a date! Make sure some of your core supporters are available (IE: Executive team members, managers…) and try to avoid any super busy times of the year. Find out about any company wide events that you could leverage to help spread the news!

  • Book the largest rooms available early
  • Start blocking off calendars and announcements as soon as a date is finalize
  • Make sure to get the word out! Have pins, stickers, posters distributed around 30 days out. We also utilized our internal employee newsletter and company wide all hands meetings to get the word out.
  • Consider leading internal team-forming sessions — we created a document to allow people to pitch ideas ahead of time. See an example here.
Designs by Irene Kuo

3. On Hack Day — give people space

Literally! Give people a shared space and zoom to collaborate — but also make sure to ask managers and everyone to commit to rescheduling any existing meetings to allow for unstructured collaboration.

  • Setup a single video conference for distributed teams and reserve a large space for people to work together.
  • Create Slack Channels for people to ask questions and allow for any last minute team forming.
  • Give clear instructions and deadlines for people to submit projects. See an example FAQ here.
  • Remember to order lunch!
Greenies on Hack Day!

4. Demo, share results, and celebrate!

After the Hack Day (the next day) we set-up our largest room with drinks and snacks, ready to celebrate and check out the cool projects.

The event was open to anyone at the company whether or not they have participated — and so was voting for the different projects.

Team members working together on Hack Day.
  • We had 11 total projects! Ranging from a Chrome extension for our support team, an ROI calculator for our sales team, and even enhancements to our video-conferencing system!
  • Do a follow-up survey and iterate— Over 90% of participants mentioned that would love to do another Hack Day, but many have liked more opportunities to meet other departments.
  • Logistics matter — Think through the demo format — For us, we had all team members record a 3 minute demo video to play during the project share. This eliminated any potential set-up snags and made the demo viewing experience much more pleasant.

Resources and Final Thoughts

  • Start early! We started planning our Hack Day at 90 days out — here’s our Trello board template with some examples!
  • Consult distributed team members if you have any to make sure the event is inclusive — IE: Order lunch and expense it, having a single zoom to see other team members.
  • Include a company wide voting system/viewing! This was probably one of my favorite moments — having people gathered together to view the awesome projects.
Hack Day Demo Viewing Party! Completed with Donuts and Beverages. Photo by Sarah Foster

Thanks!

Big shout out to my friend Todd Royal who I’ve had the pleasure to learn so much from at a previous company, Michael Boufford and Sarah Foster for your support and encouragement, Matt Schmaus + Mark McDonald + David Arjun + Irene Kuo and many more folks for helping us make this a reality!

P.S. We’re hiring for many roles!

In the Weeds

A blog by the Greenhouse Engineering team

Thanks to Matt Schmaus and Diana Liu

Carolyn Jao

Written by

Designer.

In the Weeds

A blog by the Greenhouse Engineering team

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