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Diverse and effective team building in hackathons 

Hackathons teambuilding requires clear and good communication and collaboration, also before the happening starts.


Maria Haukka

lehtori, HR ja johtaminen
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Päivi Käri-Zein

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 13.10.2023

Over 80% of Fortune 100 companies conduct hackathons. Hackathon is a tool to drive sustained innovation and crowdsource solutions ( We have organized several different kinds of creative processes, innovation projects and hackathons in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences. This blog is based on our own experiences how to form and build teams especially in virtual Hackathons. The task is not easy; there are multiple students who don’t know each other and may be timid in virtual environment.  

Embracing diversity in all possible ways is known to lead more innovative and successful teams. Versatile knowledge and education, diverse background in culture and age, as well as different needs and perspectives deliver best solutions in the complex world. What is the best way of building these effective teams? Similar methods to do the teams are valid both virtually and in contact lesson.  

Our best practices in team forming 

One of the success factors of a hackathon is teambuilding. We don’t advise that the teams are formed by themselves. Students tend to collaborate with friends, and diversity is seldom included in those teams. Most people like to work with similar and “easy” kind of people. This is why the teacher/coach must be active in team building process. There are several methods to do that, but here we present our best practices:  

  1. First, when time is limited and we have to form the teams fast, we divide the  groups randomly or by lottery. Unfortunately having diverse teams is uncertain. Sometimes lottery goes against the odds and the group is formed by friends or by the same cultural background.  
  2. A student-friendly way to divide teams is by presenting different topics or challenges and the students choose the topic according to their own interest. Students themselves prefer this method because it increases motivation. In this, there are more elements to create diverse teams in case the students are unfamiliar with each other. However, if the friends have enrolled the same hackathon, there will be limitations what it comes to diversity.  
  3. There is a third option, that is the most beneficial when building ultimately diverse teams. That is that the students fill out the Belbin team role test, finds out his/her strengths as a team player, and the teacher makes the groups according to the results. This method demands an extra hour or two to be successful, but in this way the diverse and multicultural teams can be formed best.

In both online and face, hackathons teambuilding requires clear and good communication and collaboration, also before the happening starts. Positive team culture is important. In the end, it is of utmost importance to thank and celebrate your team’s innovative solutions and ideas. Good feedback and all kinds of recognition will make team bonds stronger. 

The HACK-IT project is multinational project and funded by the EU Eramus+. In addition to Haaga-Helia, Kaunas University of Technology, University West, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança and University of Granada are involved in this project.