MY EXPERIENCE RUNNING NZ’S LARGEST HACK
Recently I had the pleasure of organising Hack the Crisis NZ alongside some truly spectacular individuals. I share my thoughts on high functioning teams as well as my version of what ‘good’ looks like in unpredictable, fast-moving environments.
HTC saw 887 registrations. 210 idea submissions. 55 registered teams. Five high profile judges. $17,000 in prizes. Over 50 mentors and coaches. Nine sponsors. Hundreds of supporters who tuned in to our public channels and live feeds.
I love the beauty of a project on steroids because it unlocks the ability and drive hidden deep within you.
Anyone who knows me knows I love a challenge.
When the opportunity to join the organising team of Hack the Crisis NZ (HTC) presented itself, I was very excited. In fact, I still am.
The level of engagement from participants, mentors, coaches, and supporters was high. Everyone was on a buzz. I could feel it through my screen.
47 out of 55 pitches were submitted. A fantastic rate given the online nature of the event, and that pitching was optional. This was an event where participants had a mere few hours to meet their team members and create their own virtual bubble for the 48 hours that followed. Opinions were shared, along with senses of humour, quirks and zoom backdrops.
After taking time to recover from hacking a hackathon, it had me curious about what made this organising team special. HTC was the first of its kind in New Zealand. It was established by a group of individuals who had never worked together, yet were able to pull it together in record time. The community effort and spirit brought this event to life, but as an organising team I think we completed our mission with flying colours.
Here are a few thoughts on what I believe made our team so unique and effective. I hope to actively foster these elements in my teams going forward. In a lot of ways, these next paragraphs are a great guide for what ‘good’ looks like in unpredictable, fast-moving environments like hackathons, accelerators or start-up weekends.
Pulling an event of this size in less than two weeks meant trading off time to discuss what we each sought to achieve, personally or together. It also meant having no time to figure each other out. Despite the ambiguity there were two values exhibited daily by the team: trust and honesty. Both driven by our common goal.
We trusted in each other’s abilities and viewpoints. Whoever was working on something got it done – we placed a lot of trust in that. It was quickly evident that we had aligned intentions and (thankfully) a common work ethic.
A tricky concept to apply under normal circumstances is co-leadership. True co-leadership echoed through every interaction and decision made, despite the constraint of a newly formed team on a deadline.
How can you co-lead if you don’t trust your colleagues? I’m not sure it can be done. Ideally you’d get to know your team first, but time is a luxury we weren’t afforded. We couldn’t have moved as quickly as we needed to without the essential ingredient of trust.
Honesty was a critical factor in ensuring things kept moving in the right direction. If something didn’t look right we cut to the chase and addressed it; without the presence of egos among us, team members could take on the constructive criticism and move on. With aligned intentions we all understood that a question, comment or suggestion was aimed at creating better outcomes for all of us.
We all felt equally responsible for the journey and the outcome. Knowing this put everyone at ease from the start. We helped each other and did what we needed to do for the collective. No one was concerned about establishing dominance or taking credit. Attitudes were level-headed and calm in the face of stressful situations.
We collaborated both on a personal level and with each other’s organisations. Whoever could help, contributed. Whoever had an idea was empowered to share it. Whoever needed to make an introduction outside the team, did so. No one was protective of their tasks. All views and offers to help were welcome. Everyone picked up where the other left off. It was the smoothest relay I had ever participated in.
Collaboration went beyond the team. The reality is that we couldn’t have done this without our wider community: the mentors, coaches, and sponsors; but is collaborating a reflection of your inability to do something alone? Not at all. Collaborating opens doors no single person or team would otherwise know about. I wish more people recognised the power of many and the positive impact you can achieve.
Mentors and coaches played a massive role in providing skills and knowledge from across the board. Each of them had allocated teams or time slots to help encourage and foster teams. We often found that they were so engrossed, they spent more time ‘on the clock’ than they needed to; and they worked together seamlessly. The value of the consolidated skill, enthusiasm and wisdom of our community was immense because of the contribution of these coaches and mentors.
Breadth of Experience
The varied skills of the organising team was truly unique. None of us were cast from the same mould. This is what I loved most about our team.
Between us we had the kind of experience you’d expect for an event like this: event management, innovation, design thinking, start-up and acceleration. All with the added benefit of some wicked fast web design experience which made the event real, clean and wholesome – in record time. We had comms and marketing superstars who were able to communicate what we needed to effectively and efficiently. We had organising extraordinaires who foresaw gaps and prepared for them. We had effective relationship managers who took good care of our stakeholders. Others managed the risk of participant isolation, creating a safe space to embrace wellness in a virtual world. The list goes on and on.
Throughout the craziness we consciously kept an eye on each other’s well-being.
To grow we must be open to learning. As successful as it was, I’d be remiss to say there isn’t always room for improvement. We debriefed after the event and did not let our learnings and experience go to waste – ready to do it better next time. Some think it’s a given to debrief. Some think its information you can’t possibly forget but as you get distracted or move on to a different project, everything slowly fades away. The learnings from an activity like this can contribute to personal or professional growth. Make the most of it.
Personally, I learned a lot. I learned that remote working has the potential to be more effective than the norm. I learned that you could surpass expectations of engagement and connectedness, in a room by yourself. I learned to rely more on others. I learned to overcome (or at least quieten) the nerves of speaking live to hundreds of people.
So there you have it. My thoughts in one place. There is definitely so much more to a high functioning, healthy team but the above stood out to me the most. If you want to know more or share your own experiences, send me a message!