In the middle of April, our entire Weekdone team packed their laptops and smartphones and drove into a lovely holiday resort to spend two days on a off-site hackathon. The goal of the trip wasn't only to have fun or to avoid doing our everyday work, it was to come back as a stronger and as a even better high performing team.
Hackathons are fun events where people have to turn an idea into reality in a very short time. It is popularized by Garage48 which has hold a lot of those all over the world. By chance, two of our founders also started Garage48, so they knew what we were doing.
Our main goals for the off-site was to learn more about each other: how we work and what are everyone's strengths. It was important that everyone tried something new and stepped out of their comfort zone.
That's how our sales people started doing creative work, our marketing manager became product manager and our CEO became the saboteur by forcing everyone to argue with each other.
The other goals was to do something we usually don't do: to create a computer-gamish Manager Simulator where everyone can test their managerial skills.
The idea was to have lot of small games, that test abilities like delegating, making decisions, motivating etc. We wanted to create something that had real value for people who visit our sites.
Of course, you can't do a decent computer game from scratch in 20 hours, but we tried, we got results and we learned a lot.
So here are the main leadership and team building lessons all of us got.
You can't always get what you want.
The first lesson, our hackathon proved, was that when you have more than a few people giving input, you need a well-established leader to make the final decision.
We, purposely, didn't have that. Event organizers wanted to focus on us figuring our teammates out ourselves and on giving everyone the chance to understand the process. And, boy, did they succeed.
All of us had cool, crazy and contradicting ideas and that led to hours and hours of discussion on topics like "should our simulator be more like Cookie Mama or Escape from Monkey Island."'
It is a manifestation of The Law of Instruments. If you are sure that your idea is the best, you'll keep pushing it on everyone. However when you're part of the team, you must be able to listen to your teammates and work together.
Another lesson we all learned was that without a clear line of command, there is no one to make sure everyone knows what they must do. This leads to situation where 2 or more people are simultaneously doing the same thing or people focusing on unimportant tasks. Everyone can say that this is not productive or good for business, but I think you have to live through it to make sure it never happens when you're in a real work situation.
But if you try.
When your time is limited, hard decisions must be made fast.
This is another one of those mantras, that everyone has heard. Yet, unless you have been in situations where decisions are needed, you won't understand it fully. (Not to brag, but we made a decision to include a decision making themed minigame in our simulator).
When you try to rely on team discussion, it often leads to decision making paralysis. No one says: "Okey, we'll do it like that." because no one knows who should say it.
However, if someone is clearly in charge, you'll save a lot of time.
Or as all of us smilingly agreed on by the end of the 20th hour: dictatorship is an awesome leadership technique.
You get what you need.
Products need true leadership vision to make sure everything gets done on time and runs smoothly. To get the leadership skills and experience, you need to live through the "I'm running against the cold stone wall".
We were lucky enough to live through it in fun and safe environment.
We had also set SMART goals for ourselves and therefore results were better than we expected.
In the end, our Manager Simulator has something from everyone in it. Whether for better or worse, our team learned to make compromises and trust each other.
Going into the office the next day, you could actually feel the change.
The final version of our simulator has 6 small exercises that help leaders test their skills. Some are like Monkey Island, some are Cooking Mama. And no one will ever know which were written by our sale sharks and which by our designers. Try it out – test your management skills.