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Walker Sands Prioritizes Culture, Transparency with First-Annual Retreat

Holly Stehlin

When we asked our employees a year ago what they would do with $25,000 to better Walker Sands, we didn’t know what kind of answers to expect.  Our employees presented proposals for everything from personal technology to season tickets for Chicago sports and broadway shows. But one really stuck out - an all company retreat.  What began as an idea turned into a reality this October as we hosted our first ever Walker Sands company-wide retreat at the iO Improv theater in Chicago.  Curious about what this day entailed?  Keep on reading to find out!

Our day began as most do...with a rock paper scissors competition.  Normal Friday, right?  After a hard-fought battle, our digital account executive Michael Noga earned his bragging rights as the Walker Sands Rock Paper Scissors champion. This is when our adventure truly began.

Retreat 4Broken up into random small groups, we embarked on a morning of improv sessions that not only pushed us out outside of our comfort zones, but opened our eyes to the importance of communication styles and teamwork.  We learned improv skills such as playing the long game, putting the team first and the ever popular “Yes, and..” to run through a variety of exercises.  From having to make up a story on the fly - one word at a time, to creating inanimate objects with our bodies sans verbal communication, our creative and problem solving skills were put to the test.  While I’m not sure that we have any future Tina Fey’s or Steve Carell’s Retreat 1among us (although John Everette might beg to differ), the iO team did a great job of showing us how the skills you learn in improv can help us all be better Walker Sands employees and work more cohesively as a team.

Now that the creative juices were flowing, we shifted our focus to employee perspectives and the future of Walker Sands.  Inspired by Pixar’s Notes Day (which you can read more about in Creativity Inc.), employees broke into groups to discuss some of our agency’s most pressing issues.  How can we more efficiently use technology?  How do we continue to diversify our workforce?  What process should we implement to make cross-team collaboration more streamlined and effective?  What if robots take over all of our jobs?  (Ok, that last one wasn’t a real topic of conversation, but you never know what the future holds…)

Retreat 3We really wanted to make this as interactive and empowering as possible, so we worked with our employees ahead of time to figure out what issues they wanted to discuss and assigned our breakouts accordingly.  The end result - over 50 proposals that we as an agency are assessing and hoping to implement over the next year!  It was amazing to see people from all different departments come together and discuss topics they are passionate about and work as a team to ensure the success of Walker Sands.

After a day of collaboration and creativity, we came together to enjoy a hilarious improv performance put on by the iO team.

Not only did this retreat help to refuel and invigorate our employees, it also allowed us to work with people we might not get to on a daily basis.  As we continue to grow and expand, we strive to maintain our tight-knit culture.  This retreat really allowed us to interact with one another in a very real and inspiring way.  I don’t know about the rest of the office, but I’m already counting down the days until next year’s retreat!