Once a year before the craziness of high season kicks off, we all gather as company for our annual staff retreat, Annual Progression. The retreat serves as a chance to reconnect as a group before we go off on our respective programs and events, to reflect on ourselves as individuals and as a company, and to set our intentions for the upcoming season. As I would leaving in January, this years’ retreat felt particularly important.
We were given little information about the event beforehand, aside from a packing list and information about an activity called Openspace, in which we were encouraged to think of a presentation, workshop, discussion, or game / activity that we could lead and share with the group. With those parameters in mind, we set out for Pha Dang Happy House in Ban Pha Dang, a beautiful village about an hour North of Chiang Dao. After a lunch stop at a delicious noodle shop along the way, we arrived at our retreat space: a guesthouse style resort with a gorgeous view overlooking a large valley containing one of the largest caves in Thailand.
In a communal space overlooking the beautiful valley, the retreat kicked off with small team building activity, where we worked together to spell out the theme of the company and the overall theme of the week: Fuel Your Progression. With this theme in mind, we were given a few minutes to write top three expectations and things we needed from the retreat in order to fuel our own progression. Each person took to the stage to present their intentions and goals, allowing the group to see where everyone’s needs lay. With that, the afternoon activities concluded.
In contrast to the day activities, the night time sessions were quieter and focused on personal reflections. In these sessions, we were challenged to share openly with each other and reach deep into ourselves. The first night’s session started off with a simple question: Who are you? In this challenge, we paired up with another person, who’s only job was to listen to the thoughts shared by their partner. What seemed to be a simple, straightforward question sparked continuous reflection and conversation. After about 10 minutes, the roles reversed and the speaker became the listener. We went to bed reflective, a bit emotionally exhausted, and ready for the days to come.
The next morning kicked off bright and early with an early morning yoga session and run, leading into a steaming hot and much-needed breakfast. Caffeinated and our hunger satisfied, the group made our way up to the communal meeting area and awaited the details of the coming days’ events. On the wall behind the stage, there was a large chart with open time slots for each hour of the next few days. This, we were told, was where we as a group would create our own itinerary based on the Openspace activities we had prepared beforehand. With everyone’s goals fresh in our minds, activities were shifted, new ones were formed, and the excitement in the room was palpable as people added their sessions to the wall.
What resulted was enough workshops and activities to warrant changing the overall schedule to allow for more time for Openspace. People were excited and inspired to share their skills and knowledge, and throughout the next two days, 9am to 5pm was filled with the sessions. Everyone, no matter their position or role, had a chance to either lead or participate in the activities of their choosing. This freedom allowed people to participate in sessions that truly interested them or fulfilled an intention they had brought to the retreat. During the sessions, people were noticeably attentive and engaged, which created an inspired and dynamic atmosphere. The activities ranged from high-intensity learning games, to discussions about proper credit card usage and sword dancing, and to deep relaxation techniques. During Openspace, we operated by philosophy that whoever needs be at that particular session is there, whether it’s two or twenty people. The choice was ours to stay or leave if the session wasn’t meeting our needs.
After two days of action filled days and nights of reflective and emotional sessions, the final night’s session was an activity we often use to close out our group programs with students: skits! People showed off their Oscar worthy impersonations and performances during the skits, which summarized the week’s activities. After regaining our breath from laughter, the rest of the night was devoted to food, fun, and hanging out / relaxing with each other. Music was playing, confusing card games involving hearty finger flicks were played, and great food was eaten.
The next morning, we gathered once again in the communal area for what would be our final day of activities. This morning was devoted mainly to company items like structure, upcoming student and corporate programming, and what everyone was most excited about: vacation policies. It was also during this time that I had the special opportunity to present with PI Josh what I had been working on for the past year. We unveiled the new Progression branding to the company for the first time and commemorated the event with reusable Progression bags for all of the staff. It was a personal relief to finally share what had been my biggest project during my two years at CMRCA and Progression.
We were due for an upbeat activity after the morning’s technical discussions, so Pi Pui W led us through a series of handshakes. The handshake activity involves finding partners with whom you perform a handshake and then share based on the prompt. Seeing the weekend coming to an end, I began to feel a bit emotional looking around at all of the wonderful people around me who I’ve come to know and love in the past few years. The prompts focused on what we would miss from the retreat and what we hoped to take forth with us and the tears came forth whether we could help it or not. Since I can’t seem to come out of any full company gathering without shedding a few tears, the activity ended on an emotional note for me and a few others.
Our final activity was by far the most touching. In silence and with sheets of paper taped to our backs, we wrote notes of affirmation on every person’s paper for them to take home with them. It’s a powerful activity to end a program with, and it was fitting end for what was a great retreat.
Exhausted, invigorated, and in some cases, a little hungover, we got in the vans and made our way back to Chiang Mai, ready for the season to come.