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BizTreat in Thailand: How we Designed, Planned and Organised a Company Retreat for Sketch Post

“This week, we woke up early for yoga and that was a very nice slow awakening. It’s great being relaxed but still being hard-working and do things that are mentally and physically beneficial.” Bernie Quah reflects on her BizTreat experience. 

Bernie, founder of SketchPost came to us a few months ago sharing with us her goals for her company and for her team for the coming years. She wanted to increase employee engagement, grow her business and bring new solutions to the market.

Sketch Post is a unique small business operating in a creative consulting industry. They’re the best in their field in South East Asia and many global counterparts look up to them. Referred to as graphic recorders, this creative bunch can be seen at events, making them more fun and memorable by visually recording everything important that happens. Their job requires a brilliant ability to quickly wrap their heads around the new subject at every event and to translate what is often a very technical and sometimes quite dry content into stories that will become memories and knowledge. Emotional intelligence, confidence, awareness, focus, creativity are just some of the tools that the SketchPost team carries in their kit. How awesome! We thought.

Learning more about the team

As soon as we got a chance to talk to the Sketch Post team, our initial impression from talking to Bernie was confirmed. Wow! What an amazing bunch of talented people! An immediate thought that popped up was how much fun we were going to have in our workshops with these sketching and drawing pros in the room!

“I came into this feeling quite optimistic about what was going to happen because even when we had our initial discussion with you we were already pinpointing what we wanted to focus on. So I was really excited about the trip.” Eliot Lee

Before we embarked on our trip to Thailand, which was the destination of choice after considering the Philippines, Bali, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, we spent a month doing user (employee) discovery and planning work. We wouldn’t plan a retreat without it. It always helps us better tailor the experience to suit the team’s culture, needs, preferences, individual profiles and budget. 

“Working with BizTreat has been very simple – we began by discussing my ideal end goals I had for this retreat. BizTreat helped us with all the logistics, choosing the right place, activities, designing the sessions – that has been very valuable because when you’re running a business you don’t have time for those things and all those little details matter.” Bernie Quah

Defining the scope of the retreat

With Sketch Post, we quickly understood that the majority of the team members were introverted and had several powerful traits that connected them. That was what we decided to build on. From the research and from having a few follow-up conversations with the team about their objectives, we knew that the team members got on well, but there were new hires who needed to be yet integrated into some of the key roles in the company, there was a tendency for people to work in silos due to the nature of their work (sometimes they get sent to events alone or in pairs) which is reinforced by the fact that the company is distributed in a few locations. There wasn’t a significant revision of their workflow done yet, since, as many other startups and scale-ups, they’ve been focused on getting things done. Lastly, as the team wasn’t really used to the formal practice of self-development, there were awesome opportunities to find everyone’s strengths, understand how these would work together and establish a healthy people development routine for the future. Bernie also really wanted to look at how we could use having everyone’s attention and the quality time in one inspiring location to initiate innovation-focused conversations for their business.

“All the touch points our company wanted to address were looked into during planning by our facilitators. At the retreat, it was great to address our physical, mental, spiritual and business health at the same time.” Bernie Quah

The grand plan

We figured that the retreat needed to cover three key areas: Empowerment, Project Management & Collaboration and finally Product Innovation. This was quite a lot to cover while ensuring that everyone also walked away from the experience feeling rejuvenated and nourished. Agreeing on the retreat theme and goals not only ensures that there is a purpose to work towards but it also helps with choosing the right activities, instructors and eventually with moulding the whole experience together.

“I actually experienced a mindset shift from before the retreat and now after. Thanks to all the exercises and activities we’ve been through. So many things that we learned about ourselves that we didn’t know. It’s been really good.” Vanessa Leong

The BizTreat way

Our way of designing experiential learning experience differs a lot from traditional events. It is a lot more integrated. We believe that this is precisely what helps us get so much done and ensures that our clients walk away with a lot of value. Literally, every single activity needs to support the learning goals, including the places we travel to, the workshops obviously, but also the choice of the physical activities, their timing and even the breaks. With this retreat, we decided to involve two instructors per theme, to outsource some of the local activities and logistics to our partners, and to interchange physical and mental exercises throughout each day.

It’s on!

We had 5 days to play with which was perfect for a retreat. The first day was a travel & arrival day, hence we wanted to make sure that the team got a proper chance to disconnect from where they came from and fully arrive in what would be their home for the following week. After picking up this cheery bunch at the airport, we teleported them to lunch at the beachfront of Hyatt Resort with lush garden, pool & ocean views, and of course, delicious Thai buffet.

A couple of hours later, we dropped our guests in the spa, which gave our team a chance to bring their luggage into the villa and make sure that their new home, instructors, learning materials and welcome packs were ready for their arrival. We ended the first day in the comfort of the villa, to which we got our dinner delivered. While munching, we went through the program for the week and introduced a few key concepts & rules of the game that was to follow.

Every day of BizTreat is dedicated to one theme. This helps us ensure maximum focus, presence and natural continuity of learning. First, we addressed the employees’ individual development through Empowerment sessions. That helped us to proceed seamlessly towards the application of these individual strengths to how to best work together in the context that’s specific to Sketch Post on day two. We looked at the problematic areas of the current process and came up with ways of improving them. 

“Working on our workflow was really rewarding. The most valuable moments were when we realised that all of us were experiencing the same pain points, even though from a different angle, we were all experiencing the same problems. That brought us closer together. We kind of knew what we wanted to do but having it all laid out helped us make those decisions really quickly. I think we’re all really excited about how those changes are going to work.” Eliot Lee

The innovation day brought all our work altogether. Everyone felt empowered, aligned around the process and ready to contribute to the future Sketch Post in the innovation sessions. For many people, this is a new exercise because innovation tends to be reserved only to certain departments, however the best way to honour employee’s contribution is to involve them in shaping the future of business.

Rapid innovation with Alex Petersen

“Coming together and brainstorming new ideas to help Sketch Post develop made me feel really hopeful about the company.” Maya Schmidt

“All of us being here together has been empowering. I volunteered for activities because  I saw the sense of urgency and immediacy and I wanted to play my part in the whole transformation. It will be good for me as well.” Vanessa Leong

Our not-so-small retreat toolkit

Amongst the tools we used were tailored yoga sessions, inner voice channeling and intuition empowerment, psychometric testing, sightseeing trips, cooking class, workflow mapping, challenges and opportunities identification, ideation, prototyping, boat trip, water slides, cycling, agile coaching, radical collaboration experiments, stand-up paddleboarding, purpose setting, 10x advantage identification, pumpkin plan, fun ice-breakers, spontaneous laughter opportunities and of course, documenting of the whole experience.

“It’s been beneficial seeing that we are stronger together than working individually. It’s been great seeing that people want to work more together so going forward, we will incorporate more of that.” Bernie Quah

Walking away with value

Eventually, we ended the retreat on the last day with a retrospective, planning and prioritisation session to ensure that everyone walked away knowing where to go next. 

“I have to step up more and take on more responsibilities for the sake of things running smoothly and the company growing. I want to try new things and expand. Especially now when everyone is enthusiastic.” Timothy Chua

“Now, we all know what the problems are and there is a clear pathway for the solutions, too. We are ready to get better and go beyond what we thought was possible.” Bernie Quah

Making the learning stick

Speaking of retrospectives, that’s one of our all-time favourites so let’s talk a bit more about that. At our retreats, we organise a quick retrospective session at the end of every day. We always use slightly different questions. This allows us to get a temperature check to see if anything could be improved instantly and whether the experience could be improved as we go. It’s incredibly beneficial for the learners to reflect on what they experience on the day, especially with events like retreats, when a lot happens in one day. Retrospectives are a great trigger to help people become more introspective, to drive their learning more, which is what is very much supported by journaling practice.

“It was good to self-reflect not only on Sketch Post but also for myself. To see what came out of that. It helped me think more about what I need to do to overcome certain things.” Maya Schmidt

Do you even journal?

Journaling is the last thing I’d really love to share a bit more about because we find it incredibly helpful. At our retreats, everyone engages in journaling twice per day, in the morning and in the evening. Our journal questions are tailored to the specific retreat objectives and schedule. It’s an independent and very personal practice which proves to be a brilliant way to support people in going deeper into their learning and in accelerating their growth. If you’re curious about what a journal template like this might look like, you can get a copy of in our Resources section.

“It is important for us to go back to our journals and reflect on how we felt during the week and how are we going to accept the changes that were done during the week.” Bernie Quah

Happy ending

To wrap up, we couldn’t have been more delighted to be hosting Sketch Post at their very first retreat. We are always incredibly honoured to be a part of any teams’ learning journeys as it’s always great learning for us, too. Big thanks to our team who made this whole experience possible and unforgettable for both Sketch Post and us.

If this got you excited, you can hear more from our instructors who we interviewed after this retreat.

Alexander Petersen talks about the benefits that the company retreats can bring to businesses. Alex lead the product innovation workshop for SketchPost.

Alex Goldyn discussed the benefits of yoga in the workplace through its power to build a better connection to self and others. She guided Sketch Post on the whole retreat journey with tailored yoga sessions every day.

Do you have your own retreat learnings to share or discuss? Would you like to learn more about how we can help you and your team? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below the article or get in touch with us at

“BizTreat is for anyone who wants to get to know their team better and at the same time solve problems and pain points in their company in a very non-threatening environment.  I think that taking the stress out of the experience really helps everyone feel like there’s no hierarchy, when it comes to bringing in new ideas, and it helps to be further away from our usual place of work, experiencing a new environment, that almost communal I think. It really helped us to break out of our 9-5 head space. I would definitely recommend it.” Eliot Lee

Big thanks to our team of instructors, coaches, mentors and guides who made this whole experience possible and unforgettable for both SketchPost and us.

5 things to consider before going on a company offsite

“5 things to consider before going on a company offsite” is a continuation of Design thinking on the beach. We highly recommend you to check it out for more inspiration.

With the popularity of business retreats increasing, at BizTreat we feel that talking about what happens during and beyond the retreat is becoming is even more important. Facilitating a multidisciplinary, fully-present crowd working together towards the same goal at a private, hidden beach was a delightful and unforgettable event. It definitely wasn’t just about getting away from the office. Here is what we learned so far and how you can make a difference between just getting away and getting away with a purpose.

Preparation is the first step. What are you aiming to achieve? How are you going to utilise the precious opportunity of gathering everyone in a new, inspiring environment? Getting ready with the right tools, approaches and methodologies that will help you achieve your goal is a great way to start! We’d suggest that you go as creative as possible and make a use of the new environment you’re travelling to. Mundane presentations can be delivered anywhere.

Offsite is an opportunity to elevate your business, not just take time off. You’re bringing together people who are the closest to your business and you chose them for their brilliance. Use their expertise to help you solve some of your business challenges. Make it real, make it relevant. Addressing a real life problem, having its stakeholders involved in the workshop and being in the environment where it originated helped our attendees to immediately connect with the challenge. Keep it fun. We cannot stress enough how important the playfulness is in delivering workshops. There are ways to make work feel like play and to unleash people’s creative sides so why wouldn’t you?

To allow you focus on filing the purpose of the retreat you might want to consider calling in external facilitators. Not only they will take weight off your shoulders in terms of planning the program, running the sessions and managing the logistics. They’re also perfect for bringing in new skills and even helping you with post-retreat follow-up and implementation of the newly acquired knowledge. Now we’re talking real learning.

Getting away from the office and picking the location carefully is the next step. Changing the environment doesn’t only serve as an inspiration trigger and a powerful agent in offering new perspectives. It helps change team dynamics, allows people to get out of their usual roles, and their embedded ways of thinking. There is less to protects, people are more at ease and less likely to manifest their egos. Going outside is also a great way of getting closer to the real world and building empathy with it.

Follow-up. Too often offsites end the moment we enter the office again. The boxes are ticked and we get on with our daily routines as before. If you managed to generate some magic during your time away, that was your 80%. The other 20% is with following up – that’s what will make all the difference for your business. Whether it’s a new way of conducting meetings that your team agreed on or a new product launch you’ve worked through, walking away from the offsite with a concrete plan or at least an intention to put things into practice will take you a long way. Now you not only paid your team for an awesome time off but you’ve truly invested in the future of your business.

Have you recently organised a company retreat? What’s your experience?

Design thinking on the beach

How we solved a real world challenge at a company offsite

Company offsite. The idea of a week spent working from a beach house sounds more than appealing. But before you swap your boardroom for an ocean view in a hope that your team will produce magic over pitchers of sangria, you might want to consider the following. Company offsite is a very real investment opportunity. It’s capable of generating more value and impact than the whole year of working around the clock, when done right. The trick is to turn the distraction-free, focused time of your team into the best innovating, creating and learning exercise of your life – while having fun. All you need is to equip yourself with the right set of tools and a few how to’s. There is a getaway. And then, there is a getaway with a purpose.

We’d like to share a case study about supercharging a business opportunity for our client – combining powerful techniques, facilitation and inspiring environment – and tell you how you can do it too, in only 5 steps. 

Defining the challenge

Only a few months ago, we run our pilot retreat program inviting a handful of businesses to join for free. On top of building BizTreat’s proof of concept we had the privilege of hosting a variety of global companies. Having been thrilled about running the pilot in our home location Siargao island, we decided to tackle one of the local business challenges – a fundraiser for Filipino surfers to help them compete in international surfing competitions.

company offsite

Surfing is a huge deal in the tiny island of Siargao. In fact, only thanks to surfing the island has roads, beach resorts and direct flights from Manila today. Despite all recent developments and increased popularity of the tropical paradise, local islanders still suffer from the tag “developing society” and rightly so. No matter how talented and motivated to surf the local kids are, majority can’t afford more than sharing one surfboard amongst 10 of them. Despite this hardship, few local surfers were lucky to attract sponsors from resort owners in the island and train daily. First opportunities to attend surfing competitions opened up and humble Siargaonons made it to world surfing league rankings.

There is nothing more encouraging for a closely knit community than success of its members. The local surfers became legends. They would serve as a point of respect and they gained authority as ambassadors for issues from environment protection to healthcare to well-being to sustainable tourism. Their voice would be heard on the island and beyond. That opened up entirely new world of possibilities for many. We were curious to learn how this magic could be reinforced.

Getting everyone on the same page

First step was helping everyone align towards the goal and ensure collective understanding of the challenge. We achieved this by drafting a project charter. After outlining context of the case study, Ian Sermonia, owner of Harana Surf Resort defined our goal: “We need to raise 320k pesos by May 12th, so that our four surfers can be sent to competitions in Sumbawa, Roti and Taiwan.” Certain activities to achieve this goal were already under way. Ian and few other key sponsors managed to get a handful of local businesses and individuals on board and they planned out a series of fundraising events in Siargao. Yet, as it often is with operations running at the speed of light and daily tasks pouring in, Ian and the stakeholders kept wondering. Were the right opportunities being leveraged? Was there anything else that could help hit the target?

design thinking

As soon as we began talking about the audience of this project, an apparent gap emerged. It became clear that there was an underserved opportunity in terms of people who had interest in supporting this type of good cause in Siargao, but who were not physically present on the island at the time of the locally organised events. Having brought together a combination of experts in business analysis, social media, community management and nonprofit management really helped connect the dots and open up the opportunity space. Our main mission became a better definition and understanding of who the potential contributors were and how to attract them. Opting for a user-centred design research was a no brainer.

User-centred design on the beach

We devised a quick battle plan made of drawing customer journey mapdefining personas and running customer interviews. This helped us get away from linear thinking and begin thinking in mind maps and connections as often promoted by IDEO, the home of design-thinking approach. The initial activities helped us to understand who the audience was, where it was coming from, how these people were thinking, what media they were using, what their interests they had and so on. Lots of useful pieces of information and inspiration for coming up with ideas how to best attract this crowd. Right after a fresh, locally sourced fruit salad we sank into a rapid ideation exercise. In a 20 minute session we managed to produce over forty ideas for accelerating the campaign. It was time for everyone to decompress in a yoga practice.

After the yoga, we gathered the whole group again and synthesised the results of everyone’s work, which immediately emerged as newly defined opportunity areas for Ian and his team to take away. The focus, which people put into the workshop transitioned into excitement as we were wrapping up and talking about implementation of the new ideas. People were committing on the spot to help with individual pieces of the campaign, that’s how thrilled they got about the ideas they achieved to produce themselves and with their peers. General sense of impression around the ‘looking at things from a different perspective’ and the actionable results it produced was felt among the attendees.

“The insights we got from the other people in the retreat were very diverse due to the fact that everyone came from different walks of life and had different expertise. The setting, being at a beach side, hearing the waves wash to shore and feeling the gentle sea breeze on your face helped in coming up with creative solutions. Definitely out of the box experience. Productive and fun at the same time!”

Ian Sermonia, Harana Surf Resort

As a final note, you’d be pleased to know that many of the ideas generated at our workshop were applied in the months that followed. The local surfers are now competing all around Asia and the wave of stoke is spreading throughout the island with every successfully ridden wave.

Our experience faciliating offsites on the beach has motivated us to consolidate useful tips for planning and organising offsites. Check them out in our next post 5 things to consider when planning a company offsite.