Learning Team Dynamics at Hackathon

Ajani Compton, a Rutgers University-Newark Fellow, shares about Hackathon at the College Board.


My cohort (#OHANA) had the chance to really begin building our relationship at Braven’s Storytelling as Leadership Workshop. Truthfully, I was a bit pessimistic at the beginning of this event, because I thought it was going to be “corny.” However, my mind quickly changed since it provided me with a chance to network, tell my own story, and develop new relationships, which made me even more excited to see what my cohort could accomplish through the rest of Braven and especially, the Capstone Hackathon. The morning of the Hackathon, I headed to the event feeling a bit tired, but was motivated by my excitement for the day.

When I arrived at the College Board’s offices, I was amazed by my surroundings. Situated along the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan, the views were impressive. I ate breakfast with my cohort and we brainstormed what business challenge the College Board might ask us to solve. When the event officially started and the challenge was revealed, I was a bit overly confident in my team’s ability to come up with a great solution to the College Board’s problem: How might the College Board’s AP team ensure more high school students from underrepresented backgrounds get access to AP courses? I had no clue how I could solve this issue, but luckily, I knew some of my cohort-mates had some solutions in mind since they had taken AP courses in high school. To gain additional knowledge and context, we interviewed volunteers who worked at companies such as TED, the College Board, and American Express, students, and others who had  taken AP courses in high school.

I was excited to share and synthesize the information we obtained through these interviews to come up with a solution. When we regrouped to discuss the information and what solutions we could generate, I noticed that we kept advocating for our own ideas without really listening to anyone else’s. Unfortunately, I had overlooked the different personalities and views that my colleagues had about this particular problem. It did not take long before I became stressed and frustrated with our group’s progress. I was waiting for Jeff, our Leadership Coach, to step in to provide us with direction, but, instead, he stepped back and allowed us to work out our disagreements.

While initially I was disappointed that Jeff did not step in, I now deeply appreciate what Jeff did for us, and it was due to his intentional inaction that it was possible for us to compromise, work together, and grow as a team. Although my cohort had a breakdown of communication during our lunch break and the prototyping segment, we were able to step back and realize that our group dynamics were not working and we needed to renorm on how to work together. We took time to re-communicate and advocate for our individual ideas and provide evidence on why they might work. Towards the end of the prototyping segment, I was able to synthesize everyone’s ideas and address some of the key points that my colleagues were trying to convey and from there we came up with a prototype that we all agreed on and felt confident presenting.

Our hard work paid off when we rehearsed our presentation. Through the disagreements and miscommunications, we were able to finally share a solution we felt proud to present to the panel of judges made up of College Board staff. Personally, I was nervous because I did not want to let my team down, but I felt reassured by my teammates and pride for our cohort. Jeff told us we did a great job, but we already knew that; not only because we were able to deliver a strong presentation, but also, and more importantly, because we knew we were all able to work through disagreement and tension and finally as a team, connect and finish something challenging together.

This blog post is not only to share my experience of attending the Hackathon but also to advise future Braven Fellows to always have a positive mindset about new things as well as to trust and support your cohort. I was pessimistic at the start of Braven due to my fear of not being able to connect with anyone in my cohort. Fortunately, I was wrong. By the time we attended the Hackathon, we were able to overcome adversity, tackle the issue, solve a problem, and succeed. It showed me how far my cohort and I had come since the beginning of Braven and that with hard work and a positive attitude, we could accomplish anything together.