At most weekend events, an ideal team is about 4 – 5 people. It can be quite difficult to have a robust hackathon experience with less than 3 team members involved for each project, and we’ve found that it is often too chaotic to have more than 8 people working on a single project at a time. Most Hackathon teams find equilibrium at 4 or 5 team members depending on skills needed.
As a guide, having the following roles on the team seem to provide the best outcome:
TEAM SIGNUPS: One thing that works really well is when volunteers get their entire teams to sign up. If a team, rather than just 1 individual joins the project – the speed in which they can execute on tasks increases more than twofold. This is because teams that are familiar working together know ahead of time who will handle which task and they know what kind of developer setup they need ahead of time.
TECHNICAL LEADS IN THE ROOM: Another thing that works well is to have a technical nonprofit rep actually in the room either working directly with the volunteers or serving as an advisor. Nobody knows the project better than a technical lead at the nonprofit and they can often help save hours of time by providing experience guidance on what types of choices work best.
LESS THAN ONE DAY: Challenges for social good hackathons usually revolve around time commitments. As we discussed earlier, social good hackathons involve building real technology for nonprofits, and it’s very difficult to accomplish something real in less than a day. I strongly recommend at least a 2-day engagement when asking nonprofits to commit and prepare for your event. It takes almost 2.5 days of preparation for every 1 day of hacking. This is because nonprofits must ask multiple stakeholders for information when they’re preparing for the hackathon including product managers, core engineering teams, vice presidents, and sometimes finance.
VOLUNTEERS COME LATE OR COMING AT DIFFERENT TIMES: The most difficult thing to deal with when doing a short hackathon is when team members show up hours late or you try to allow volunteers to come in waves. This never works well as team cohesiveness is extremely important in short-term events. Allowing individuals to show up unexpectedly creates problems when trying to assign tasks for the project.
LESS THAN 3 TEAM MEMBERS: For the most part, it’s quite difficult to achieve high impact results without at least 3 people working that day. When we’re talking about a coding project it really helps to have 1 person dedicate their time to the back-end work, 1 person dedicate their time to front-end work including content and design, and have 1 extra person who can help coordinate both or do other related tasks like map our logical models and setup databases on hosting servers. With just two people, a hack project is usually lackluster.