Innovating HR: How Hackathons Foster Organizational Change

As an enterprise scales and its culture solidifies, it becomes increasingly challenging for innovation and creativity to flourish. That’s why we see a growing number of coworking spaces and accelerator programs, as part of a collective effort to figure out what we’ve all been wondering when it comes to 21st century business: Can companies be both large-scale and agile?

Speed and agility have never been more critical in today’s digital world, where globalization and technology have increased competition tenfold. At the heart of it all is innovation, a way of doing things differently to achieve a company’s vision while staying ahead of the competition. While it’s clear that innovation is the lifeblood of any business, what remains uncertain is how leaders are supposed to achieve it.

A good place to start is to realize that the most innovative ideas don’t come from a single mind – they’re the result of collaboration. Over the last decade, a more unorthodox but equally exciting means of collaboration has had a profound impact on innovating the tech world: The Hackathon. Typically in reference to those innovation jams organized by the likes of IBM, Facebook, and even NASA, a hackathon is an event where entrepreneurs, developers, and other tech enthusiasts come together over a short period of time with a challenge to create new products equipped to disrupt their respective markets.

Luckily, hackathons don’t have to exist solely in the tech sphere. In fact, companies across all industries should be encouraged to employ these same principles to instill more innovative cultures and break through various organizational inefficiencies.

Hackathon Blog Top Industries

Hacking your HR Department

The speed and degree of digital transformation has had an undeniable impact across all business functions. At the centre of it, you will find Human Resources (HR), where digital disruption has created new ways for companies to deal with talent retention, employee engagement, succession planning, leadership development, and other HR focal points.

Hackathons are a fun and energetic way to push boundaries and think laterally. Beyond that, it is a way to encourage, celebrate and reward unique ideas, with a potential to become one of the most inspiring events that you can organize for your employees.

Many companies overlook the fact that their employees see inefficiencies in action every day. They have a wealth of untapped knowledge, and rather than hiring expensive consultants to help tackle those issues, there’s a valuable opportunity for HR to more effectively engage employees in idea sharing and problem-solving. This creates more investment in solutions and accountability in the culture.

In an attempt to bring this kind of thinking to the HR space, we have developed a hackathon-inspired program to improve the employee experience of our clients while acting as both a talent incubator and a vehicle to develop deeper cross-functional skills. We call it Project WOW.

wow process

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Project WOW

For many organizations, brainstorming, building, and implementing new processes can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to put into effect, and that doesn’t include the time it takes to train internally and get everyone on-board with embracing the change. Hackathons like Project WOW significantly speed up that process. For our clients, innovative ideas are tested, built out, and scaled in an accelerated 90-day cycle.

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What makes this process unique is that it taps directly into your people – their knowledge and perspectives – to discover inefficiencies and generate new ideas that can help your organization save and make money. We lead the initial workshops, but we also train your people and provide technology solutions that allow you to become self-sufficient, embedding the WOW process as a sustainable part of your culture.

Using a collaborative innovation platform, such as Qmarkets’ Q-hack, allows hackathons to take full and complete advantage of the potential your employees offer you in coming up with new ideas. Qmarkets’ Q-hack is a tool specifically designed to facilitate the execution of a hackathon from end-to-end, and then integrate the results from this into your larger, overall innovation process. Q-hack can act either as a standalone tool, or in conjunction with Qmarkets’ other suite of collective intelligence tools, such as Q-live, their brainstorming tool, or Q-open, their open innovation tool.

Tips and Tricks for a Successful Hackathon

On average, Project WOW has helped our clients achieve a 4X return on investment.

Here are some best-practices we’ve developed when it comes to running internal hackathons:

Hackathon Blog Rewards

Entice employees with rewards that will inspire and engage them.

Prize money is always welcomed, but you don’t have to splurge to grab the attention of your people. Think beyond cash incentives. Entice your people with experience rewards that will further their career. Let them lead a new project. Send them abroad on a business trip. Have them solve a complex problem for you. 

Make it a learning experience.

People constantly want to develop new skills. When these minds come together in a hackathon, not only are more ideas created, but it helps everyone think differently and gets their creative juices flowing, allowing for a positive, long-lasting, learning experience.

Hackathon Blog Culture

Match your hackathon to your company’s culture and strategic goals.

This is critical if you want to encourage innovation throughout the organization and integrate this style of event into the company culture. 

Hackathon Blog Theme

Pick a theme.

Having a clear theme and set of objectives gives participants some guidance, which is especially important in shorter hackathons.

Building a New Culture

For larger organizations, hackathons can greatly accelerate the process of culture transformation. It becomes less about creating new products and more about hacking away at inefficient processes and old-school ways of working. Internal hackathons show that larger organizations are capable of delivering disruptive innovations at start-up speed, a skill that has never been more critical in today’s business climate. With speed and agility now central to driving business value, hackathons become a valuable tool for accelerating organizational change and encouraging a sustainable and collaborative culture.

To learn more about Project WOW, check out our website at

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