When it comes to team-building exercises, Switch — an experiential marketing agency based in St. Louis — aims to do for its own company what it does for its clients. So one day in late September each year, the company closes down for Field Day, a full day of activities ranging from physical challenges to games and trivia, at local Tower Grove Park.
Nearly every full-time Switch employee — 140 out of 147 this year — participates in the event, which started seven years ago when someone made an off-the-cuff comment during a meeting about hosting a company outing. “I took that idea and put some meat on it,” said Annie Castellano, Switch’s chief creative officer, “to make it not just about the games, but about building relationships inside the company.”
Field Day evolved from there, and now includes a 10-round draft among employees to build the competing teams. An even number of people — mostly coming from different departments — are assigned to each draft round.
Once the teams are set, they turn to the task of selecting team colors, names, and campaigns. Captains choose their colors in the draft stage, then the team comes up with a theme relating to both the captain and the color — costumes included. Two years ago the green “Lunky Charms,” led by Captain James Lunk, represented the different “charms” in the popular cereal. Teams also create three-minute promotional videos, which are played at a staff meeting the Thursday before Field Day.
And then it’s on to the games, which are kept secret until Field Day by Megan Burmeister, a senior program accountant at Switch, who has served as Field Day Commissioner (i.e., organizer) for the last three years. Burmeister starts planning Field Day in June, working with a committee of six other employees. “It’s researching inflatable rental companies for the physical games,” she said, “thinking about what would be really fun for employee trivia challenges, and social games that are completely based on luck.”
Popular activities at Field Day 2013, held on Sept. 20, included an “adult tricycle” obstacle course, a trivia game based on employees’ fun personal details, and “Hi, My Name Is,” in which officials (also Switch volunteers) flashed photos of employees in ever-increasing speeds over six rounds. The teams’ job was to identify the various faces. “It tends to be that the better you know your coworkers’ faces, the better you will be as a team member,” Castellano said.
It wouldn’t be much of a competition without prizes, and for first-place team members, that’s $250 and one vacation day. Other prizes include the Andy Ruhlin Spirit Award — given in memory of a Switch employee who passed away three years ago — and an award for the best team campaign and video.
But really it’s not about the prizes or a day off. “It’s about investing in each other,” Castellano said, “and getting to know each other.”
Something for Themselves
Field Day is a significant investment for Switch, and not just in terms of planning. Each year, the experiential marketing agency spends about $30,000 on the event, which has replaced the company’s holiday party based on unanimous employee vote. “We’re creating experiences for employees that are memorable and meaningful, and that’s just exactly what we do for our clients,” said Switch’s Annie Castellano. “It furthers our commitment to what we do because we see that it works for our own company.”