The Hutong Staff Training: Secret Weekend Retreat


“Great companies assume they can trust people and can rely on relationships, not just rules and structures. They are more likely to treat employees as self- determining professionals who coordinate and integrate activities by self-organizing and generating new ideas.”  

                                                                                        -Rosabeth Moss Kanter

The Hutong’s annual staff retreat is unlike most other companies on this planet in that it was in a top-secret location we only discovered upon arrival. Outdoorsy Aussie adventurer Mark Thirlwall, one of  The Hutong’s Co-Founders, sought out this location, specifically as a place for The Hutong Crew to unpack our bags, unlock ourselves from our computer screens, get all of us out of the city, into the serene countryside and get a fresh new perspective on ourselves, our team, our company and our future.


Clean Air and Green Surroundings Invite New Perspectives & Fresh Ideas

In collaboration with Skott Taylor, founder of Newseed Creative Consulting, the theme of our retreat was storytelling. Sitting often in pow-wow circles and flaming up s’mores over an open campfire was just part of the weekend fun, but the core purpose of this retreat was to aim a magnifying glass on the link between the story of The Hutong and the story of each of our staff members’ personal and professional growth and potential.



NewSeed Founder Skott Taylor Guides Our Path to Shaping our Hutong Story

Looking back at the small idea that started  The Hutong in 2006, at the dusty small courtyard space that eventually got a complete make-over, at the slow process of developing our Hutong community from only a handful of Hutong regulars made up mostly of Beijing friends and friends of friends, now a place where both new and familiar faces are welcome to come and stay for tea and culture-exchange classes, and taking a look at some of The Hutong’s star staff members who have been with The Hutong since the very beginning to the new staff who are just getting to know our quirky company culture, every member’s story links to The Hutong’s story and every day this story is adding more pages.


Edward Fyfe Shares his Hutong Story Timeline

Taking place across two full days, we had our fair share of team-building workshop activities and challenges that emphasized listening, sharing, learning, storytelling, teamwork, and most importantly, having fun while being productive and proactive.


Weekend Summary:

While a handful of Hutongers jumped at the chance to grab their bikes and cycle out of Beijing to the hills of Changping a day early, the majority of our team arrived the following morning on a large coach bus.


Awaiting the Arrival of the Rest of Our Hutong Clan


Mark Leads a Morning Yoga Session

Once everyone came together, we refueled with a hearty homemade breakfast, where Josh discovered what happens when you mix Marmite with Chinese 小米粥 (millet porridge). Culinary innovation at its best.


Narrow Hutongs in this little Changping Village


Our team building activities took place at an open outdoor theater stage with tongue twister exercises, improv performing fun, and story-sharing.


Setting up for lunch on a remote walkway surrounded by nature.


Pre-dinner hike through thick bush to reach sections of the old Great Wall


Figuring out how to “Break out of jail by getting over the wall” one at a time


Home baked afternoon snack goodies by Experimental chef Mark Thirwall


Piecing our Hutong story together by mapping out  individual time lines



We encourage post-lunch power-naps
While everyone else finds a corner of a kang to squeeze onto, Mark sprawls out in a little nook outside


Telling stories through silent group statues and acting out The Hutong’s story


A weekend retreat that happened to coincide with Mark’s birthday, we were all about to take part in one of our favorite activities of all – the rare chance to roast Mark as a surprise birthday performance.


“I need to thank you all again for that wonderful B-Day present in the form of improv theatre. I was left in tears of laughter and was in awe of how well you all seem to know too well my stupid antics. I’m just too easy to make look silly. I loved it, crazy memorable. For me that was creating a true lasting memory…” – Mark Thirwall, Co-Founder of The Hutong