Why internal hackathons are the best you can do to foster your team culture

When you run a business with 10 employees, implementing organisational changes in the workflow is not a big problem. But what if you run a corporation with thousands employees scattered across countries? How does organisational change happen in large companies?

For answers we referred to the Management Study Guide to figure out what works best for big corporates. Here is what we found out.

Whether changes are driven from the top or from the bottom of the organisation influences a company culture a lot. There are pros and cons for both approaches, but the truth is that real change requires involvement from all levels. The Guide suggests,

“Change can be driven solely from the top. However, for continued success, change has to come from within each employee and this can only happen in organisations that have an organisational culture that encourages each employee to contribute to the initiatives.”

Easier said than done. How does one of many employees finds the motivation to become a part of the larger change in corporate work? How does a large company foster culture that encourages this thinking in every employee? To find answers we decided to see how large companies solve this problem in their work. So we joined internal hackathon Nordea has organised for company’s Mobile and Emerging Payment Solutions department.

We drove about 30 minutes to a stunning villa in Vantaa, Helsinki to see how Nordea employees are hacking together their mobile payment offerings. The house that used to belong to one of the most famous Finnish rappers, now has plenty of space to accommodate 10 teams with 3-5 people in each team. We arrived right in time for dinner, when most of the teams were enjoying their pretty healthy dinner (no pizzas or potato chips on the table). Some however are still coding eagerly.

We looked up top fintech startups featured in Forbes, got a lot of inspiration there. Now we are working on new solutions for Nordea mobile and we want to finish it on time.” – comments one of the participants. “At Nordea we know how to manage deadlines” – adds, his colleague. He’s handing over a few bananas to his team mates. We leave, wishing the best of luck for the competition and move on to Teppo Jansson, Head of Mobile and Emerging Payment Solutions and the main organiser of the hackathon.

The idea to organise an internal hackathon came to me long time ago. When I first got to meet my team. That’s when I realised there were so much potential in my new colleagues. We need to support the innovative thinking and mindset in order to introduce different kind of approaches when we develop services for our customers.” – says Teppo Jansson.

Let’s look how hackathon can help your company to drive internal change and help your employees on this particular Nordea case.

Employees participating in the hackathon have a profound understanding of Nordea products, and obviously have some ideas of what could be introduced, improved or done better. The reason why they are not bringing this up is because they focus on their daily tasks. All they need is free-from-work time in some remote location and good atmosphere. They also need help to make those ideas visible for the management.

That’s where the hackathon format comes into play. No pre-set tasks, no assignments – purely self-driven attitude on what could be improved. Everyone from the team can join any of the hackathon teams, bringing on their unique expertise. All ideas are welcomed, even the crazy ones. For example, how to integrate Nordea mobile payment app Siirto to Amazon Alexa – intelligent personal assistant?

Not only the hackathon fosters team culture and empowers creative problem solving, it also brings more transparency in the processes. It is also an experience, and as we all know, shared experiences like great team work re-connect people from different levels and departments and allows them to implement certain upgrades within the organisation. Developers start to understand business needs more, business people learn how to deliver the best solutions to the management, and management can provide useful feedback to its employees.

Needless to say, we tried it a few times at ArcticStartup, and it worked exactly the same way for us. If this inspire you and you’re thinking of throwing your own internal hackathon, feel free to hit us up at [email protected] for any questions.