"We've now had two successful Jeopardy! rounds," reports Alexis Meisels, as she stands at the front of a San Francisco conference room. She's a senior media associate at the PR firm Bateman Group, but right now she's addressing a very select group of colleagues. They are the Vibe Squad. And the eight members in attendance are sprawled casually on the floor. "I'll circulate the questions," she continues, "because it would be so fun for a regular happy hour."
When Meisels says "regular," she's not kidding. In addition to team-building activities like mini golf, scavenger hunts and Ping-Pong, the Vibe Squad is in charge of monthly (themed!) happy hours that involve activities like the aforementioned game-show adaptation. ("We have a pseudo-professional Jeopardy! board and include general Trebek-isms," Meisels explains.)
It may all sound like fun and games, but to the Vibe Squad, it's serious business. The 14-person team (eight in San Francisco, five in New York and one in Portland, Ore.) is composed of volunteer employees eager to enhance the culture of Bateman Group's offices. The Squad first formed years ago, when company founder Fred Bateman wanted a dedicated crew to bring a core company philosophy to life: Invest in team first.
"We're not just party planners—although we do a lot of party planning," says Jennifer Steinle, Bateman Group's VP of operations and Vibe Squad leader. "We're always thinking of ways to keep people engaged and to keep communication open. You can see it in our high retention rates; people who come to work here stay here." (That much was clear at this particular Squad meeting, where the topic du jour was how to celebrate an employee's 10-year anniversary with the company.)
While they love a party, the Squad also has a serious side. E3thos, a company-wide philanthropic initiative, is Bateman's "moral GPS." The program was inspired by Salesforce's 1-1-1 model, but kicked up a notch: Bateman pledges 2 percent of profits, 2 percent of employee time and 2 percent of partner equity to support charitable causes.
"Every employee can nominate a charity for an individual $100 grant, and/or nominate them for a monthly $1,000 grant," Steinle explains. "The Vibe Squad reviews the nominations and votes each month on the winner." It's then the Squad's responsibility to establish a relationship with the organization, make the donation and investigate further volunteer opportunities.
A big part of the group's success is its interactive nature; the committee considers itself a channel for executing employees' best ideas. "Every company should have a Vibe Squad," says San Francisco office manager Brooke Thivierge. "The people here are so passionate—a lot of the ideas come to us organically outside of our Vibe meetings. We just put a backbone to it."
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