A behind-the-scenes perspective of BeanCon, our first all-company retreat

18 December, 2023
Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

6 minutes

Third time’s a charm. For planning Bean Ninjas’ first all-company retreat, BeanCon, it certainly felt that way. 

You see, we’ve been planning to host this retreat for more than three years. We’ve had to cancel it not once but twice, first because of a volcanic eruption and then a global pandemic. 

Despite the curveballs thrown by nature and global events-, we finally were able to bring our team together from all over the world to Boracay in the Philippines. It was an opportunity for our team to connect, share stories, and build relationships that went beyond professional collaboration.

Every aspect of our retreat was thoughtfully planned and curated to forge a more cohesive and inclusive company culture. In this post, we’re going to share a behind-the-scenes perspective on how we planned and structured the retreat. 

BeanCon Vision  

Beancon team members on the beach

Our primary goal was to finally bring together all of our team members from various regions – the US, Europe, Australia, and the Philippines – in a single, cohesive gathering in Boracay in the Philippines. 

“The goal was really about connection, celebration, and the relationships within the team,” says Meryl. “So, celebrating eight years since Bean Ninjas was launched. 

As a remote-first company, this was also the first time many team members were meeting in person. 

This retreat was about more than just team-building. It was also about creating an environment where members could celebrate their collective achievements, engage in meaningful conversations, and return feeling more integrated into Bean Ninjas’ culture. 

While hosting a retreat is expensive, we viewed it as an investment in our team. All in, it cost us ~$20k AUD to run the retreat (excluding international flights). This was for accommodation, all meals, activities, domestic flights, transfers, and a videographer / photographer.

We had a total of 23 staff attend, (Any husbands and wives of team members paid their own costs.) This works out to be around $870 AUD per person (excluding international flights)

Choosing the right time and location 

Selecting the ideal time and location was a crucial aspect of planning the company retreat. 

The retreat took place in Boracay because it is a big tourist destination and right on the beach. 

“We didn’t want it to be too close to Christmas, which is why we picked October,” says Meryl.  “And we also need to time it around month’s end reporting. So, the first two weeks of every month are out because we need to send out management reports.” 

Another deliberate decision was hosting the retreat for three weekdays and two nights.  

So, we decided that three days, two nights was a good amount of time,” says Meryl. “So the team arrived on a Wednesday. Then, everyone traveled back on Friday so they could return to their family for the weekend or stay in Boracay for a weekend getaway.”

Choosing a fun location meant team members were excited to travel there.

This meant they could host the retreat in an exclusive resort, Fairways and Bluewater Boracay, in a scenic, tourist-friendly environment, but you also get some of the serendipity and focus from having a resort mostly to yourself.

“I’m really glad we picked the exclusive resort where we had our own space,” says Meryl. “If we went elsewhere, it would have been too busy for our group to be together. It would have been hard to get restaurant bookings, and we wouldn’t have had our own space just to laugh and interact.”

Despite its many advantages, the location did have a few drawbacks, such as being further from Station Two Beach than expected, which limited easy access to more varied activities and dining options. However, these minor inconveniences were offset by the overall benefits of the chosen venue. 

Setting the agenda and structure 

Rose leading some team members

Our agenda for the retreat was a blend of structured team-building activities and ample opportunities for informal interactions and relaxation.   

Throughout the retreat, there was also a conscious effort to encourage spontaneous and serendipitous conversations. This approach, particularly effective in a group with a mix of introverts and extroverts, helped in breaking down barriers and facilitating deeper connections among team members.

Rose Ann Tomas, Head of People & Culture played a pivotal role in planning and executing the event’s schedule. 

“There were a lot of conversations,” says Rose. “Also one-on-ones with the team leaders, between team leaders and their team members, and also the management team.”

Day 1: Arrival and team dinner 

The first day was primarily a travel day for the team. So, we kept it relatively light by greeting everyone and passing out team t-shirts and lanyards to help people identify each other and immediately foster a sense of connection and purpose.  

“We also allowed ample downtime in the afternoon,” says Rose. So, there was time for people to recharge and reset after a long travel day.”

The day concluded with a team dinner, which served as the opening event and provided an opportunity for informal interactions and getting to know one another.

Day 2: Team-building activities and leisure time 

The second day was more structured and included a bunch of team-building activities that were thoughtfully chosen to be simple yet fun. In addition, all of the activities chosen were  Filipino cultural games. This choice added a local flavor to the retreat. 

There was a long afternoon break, which allowed the team to explore the resort, enjoy the beach, or relax. 

“We had a break after lunch for about three hours in the schedule just for people to relax and go back to their rooms,” says Rose. “There’s a lot of team members who are introverts, and so we were mindful of that.” 

The day ended with another team dinner, complemented by games hosted by Wayne. 

Day 3: Closing remarks and manager 1:1s 

On the final day, this included closing remarks, team pictures, and one-on-one meetings. These one-on-ones were strategically planned between team leaders and their direct reports.  

Team-building activities  

Team members exercising on the beach

One of the most impactful moments from our retreat were the team-building activities we did on the morning of our second day. 

Each activity was uniquely designed to foster collaboration, creativity, and laughter among the team in an inclusive environment. 

“Filipinos can be quite shy when you first meet them,” says Rose. “So, it takes quite a while for them to be comfortable. After these activities, everyone was more comfortable.” 

This kicked off with a Group Cheer activity, where teams had only 10 minutes to devise and perform a cheer. This engaging exercise served as an icebreaker. 

Following this, the “Paint Me a Picture” activity tasked teams with using their bodies to represent various scenarios. This not only demanded creative thinking but also reinforced the importance of non-verbal communication and collaboration in a fun and interactive way.

Another highlight was the Philippine Lime Relay (Calamansi), a twist on the traditional egg and spoon race that required precise coordination and teamwork. 

Similarly, the Animal Action Relay, which is like charades, brought laughter and enjoyment. Everyone had to act out and guess animals through non-verbal cues.

The Longest Line game concluded the team-building activities, where teams competed to create the longest line using personal items. This activity showcased strategic thinking and resourcefulness. We also got to see how competitive many people on our team are.   

Team Dinners  

Beancon dinner

We also organized team dinners for both nights of the retreat. These dinners served as key moments for building relationships beyond the structured agenda of the retreat.

For instance, the first night’s dinner was hosted at a restaurant within the resort. And the second night’s gathering shifted to the resort’s function room. 

These dinners were carefully-curated experiences that encouraged everyone to chat with everyone else on the team. 

In addition, our leadership team also made an effort to talk to every single person on the team at some point during one or both dinners.  

We also used small icebreaker games to encourage people to talk to others they may not work or interact much with in the company.  

Additional lessons learned from our first all-company retreat 

Beancon photo on the beach

While BeanCon was a success, there are a few things that we might do differently for the next one. 

  • Switching up the location. While we loved hosting this retreat in Boracay, our retreat resort had a few drawbacks. Most notably, it was further from the center of town than expected.  
  • Menu and food selection. Rose mentioned a desire to have more control over the menu choices, as she was not entirely satisfied with the food options during this retreat. 
  • Longer duration. Rose also mentioned the desire to extend the duration of the next retreat from three days and two nights to four days and three nights. 

Posted By

Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

Meryl is a Chartered Accountant, entrepreneur, and surfer! The Bean Ninjas mission: Creating freedom for entrepreneurs through stress-free business finances.

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