The Sandstorm team stands in front of an ivy-covered wall for a group photo.

Once upon a time, Sandstorm had an office in Chicago (near Wrigley Field!). Teams saw each other face-to-face, collaborating around the table, enjoying each other’s company, and connecting outside of the office.

The pandemic changed everything in the best way possible! One of the biggest impacts was in our hiring practices. Going remote, we were no longer limited by hiring Sandstomers only in the Chicago area. Suddenly, we had candidates applying from all over the country—which meant a more diverse pool of candidates, and we were better for it! However, many Sandstormers have never met one another in person. So over the last year or so, we’ve been planning a way to change that with an in-person Sandstorm Summit.

The entire Sandstorm team gathered in Chicago for three days of collaboration, learning, and lots of fun. Each day we spent together was driven by one of our core values:

  1. Create Joy
  2. Be Curious
  3. Warrior Spirit

Summit Day 1: Create Joy

Day 1 had a pinch of Warrior Spirit as those of us out-of-towners made the journey to Chicago from all across the country: Washington, Alabama, Kentucky, Massachusetts, California, and several other states. The majority of the out-of-towners (myself included) stayed in a beautiful Airbnb in Wrigleyville, and that night, it was all about CREATING JOY. We hosted a Lou Malnati’s pizza party as everyone arrived, got comfortable, played some pool, and enjoyed each other’s company. That night we got our swag bag and our first core value pin.

As one of the last two people to arrive, I’ve never had people be louder or more excited for me to walk into a room than this night. So. Many. Hugs. 😁

Summit Day 2: Be Curious

We had an early start to the day, which was a tall ask considering all the hanging out we did the night before. Our schedule called for us to be down for business summit activities by 9 AM at the Chief clubhouse in Fulton Market.

After breakfast, coffee, and early morning chit-chat at the beautiful, jewel-toned clubhouse, we embodied our value BE CURIOUS by:

  • Taking part in a DEI icebreaker. Our #IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) team put together a bingo card, where we did one-minute rounds of speed interviewing to see how many squares we could mark off with our team. Traits ranged from gender or ethnicity, to whether or not someone appeared on Family Feud. We learned that every single one of us has a sibling – so we were raised to know how to share and work together!
  • Learning how we win amazing clients. Our VP of Business Development, Amanda Heberg, walked us through the rigorous and intentional process of bringing new clients into the agency, the decisions we make to ensure a great fit, and how those projects ultimately make it to our team.
  • Identifying our DiSC profile. After a lunch of Potbelly’s sandwiches, we took the time to complete the DiSC personal assessment. This particular tool helps improve teamwork and communication by helping you understand how the people you work with communicate. Not to brag, but I’m a Cs, which apparently means I’m impossible not to like. 😉
Emily, Sandie, Andy, and Neil participating in the IDEA activity
Syd, Cam and other Sandstormers chatting
Sandstorm team in a fun pose on the rooftop at Chief

Once the serious business was done, we hit the ground running to earn our core value pin, CREATE JOY:

  • Riding in style. A party bus trolley picked us up from the Chief clubhouse. We enjoyed libations and plenty of loud music from the Sandstorm Summit hype playlist all the way back to the Airbnb.
  • Creating bumper stickers. Using our newfound DiSC knowledge, we split into teams based on our primary DiSC letter and created bumper stickers to represent our groups, ranging from the I’s “Yes, Yes, Yes, Never No!” to the C’s “Additional Instructions Required”.
  • Enjoying the Cubs game. We ate a delicious buffet dinner of sliders, veggies, and lots and lots of snacks at Budweiser Brickhouse Tavern before heading over to watch the Cubs play. They may have lost, but we had a great time hanging out, drinking beer, and being interviewed by birthday boy Nathan Haas and his tiny mic.
Sandstorm team at Brickhouse Tavern
Nathan interviewing Andy with a tiny mic during the Cubs game
The Cubs Welcome Team Sandstorm displayed on the score board at Wrigley

We arrived back at the Airbnb pretty late in the evening, and several Sandstormers continued the fun by playing pool and enjoying conversation while others of us tucked into bed for well-earned sleep.

Summit Day 3: Warrior Spirit

We left our Airbnb not nearly as bright and early as Day 2, but we did need to check out and get moving. After we’d cleaned up and packed our stuff, we were off to our fearless leader, Sandy Marsico’s, house for our final few activities for the day.

While we enjoyed mochi doughnuts and coffee for breakfast, we started with an activity called “Draw a Bird”. For those of you in the web development world, you know just how important specific requirements are. This exercise helped us understand exactly that with the prompt, “Draw a water bird in its natural habitat.”

Flamingos, geese, ducks, penguins—we had a wonderful range of creatures from all members of our team, but not a single one of us understood our “client’s” request correctly. Specific requirements are always better so we can get it right the first time.

After that, it was time for our volunteer activity of constructing 200 coloring book kits for the Metro Achievement Center for Girls. This organization serves a Hispanic population of girls ages 8 - 18 in the Chicagoland area with mentoring, tutoring, and fun electives.

In the weeks leading up to the summit, we asked our team, “What does girl power mean to you?” We then took those responses and used MidJourney to generate images based on the responses, while also trying out new ideas. Through the use of AI, we selected our favorite variations, which then became the actual pages of the coloring book. Each page included the image and the prompts used to create the image. For the back of the book, we used ChatGPT to create a description of how Midjourney works, including links to the tools used, so the girls who received our kits could learn how the AI technology works and be able to try it on their own. Check out the coloring book here.

Janna, Nathan, and Laura trimming the covers of the coloring book
Sandstomers assembling the coloring book
Coloring book kit including: pencil case, coloring book, colored pencils, eraser, sharpener, and STEM stickers

With the coloring books printed, our team assembled the completed books along with supplies like pencils, erasers, stickers, and so on in an efficient assembly line, fully embodying our third and final core value, the WARRIOR SPIRIT, and our mission of doing good work for good people.

We spent a little time taking team photos with the help of our long-time collaborator, Blair Holmes, and after all of that, it was time for Sandstormers to head home – leaving with their last core value pin. Some ventured to the airport right away; others lingered in the city to spend time with family and friends.

Nathan holds the camera for a Sandstorm group selfie on the stairs at Sandy's house
Sandstorm team in a fun pose on the stairs of the Marsico house

I think I speak for everyone when I say we left refreshed and inspired after seeing each other in person, and all too eager to do it again soon. Can’t wait until #SandstormSummit2024!

A light-skinned non-binary person wearing black glasses and a white shirt smiles wide.
Syd Hunsinger
Product Owner, Certified DEIB Specialist

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