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    January 16th, 2014

    ♫  Yeah but I want to
    Walk on the water with you…

    Lyrics and Music by Steven TylerJoe PerryJack Blades, and Tommy Shaw, recorded by Aerosmith.

    retreat

    This is another guest post from my friend and colleague Bob Denney.  So many law firms are facing issues today that I thought his article on how to conduct firm retreats to develop a plan that has ‘buy in’ to tackle these issues would be a timely and useful post.  Having been involved in firm retreats, I know that they are a fine art and require a skilled moderator to lead the discussions and keep everyone on track.  Having a plan and having someone skilled to guide you along it can make the difference between a successful retreat and an outstanding one.

    WALK ON WATER

    Planning and conducting a successful retreat is like walking on water – it’s a lot easier if you know where the rocks are. The best way to find the rocks is to follow certain guidelines. Some of them apply to every retreat, regardless of the firm. Others vary, depending on the purpose of the retreat and the culture and goals of the firm.

    Some of the reasons for holding a retreat:

    • To develop or approve a strategic plan. This is serious business.
    • To discuss a major issue – such as a possible merger or new compensation plan – or to launch a new marketing or business development program. This is also serious business.
    • To discuss the “state of the firm”. This may be serious business.
    • To provide an opportunity for the members of the firm – or all the attorneys – to communicate and socialize together. This is important.
    • Even if there is no serious business, it is wise to hold a retreat annually. It is no coincidence that the firms with strong cultures and good internal communications generally hold an annual retreat.

    Planning the retreat

    • Clearly define the objectives – and be sure they can be accomplished.
    • Begin planning far in advance; three months is the bare minimum. Size is a factor here. A retreat for 200 people requires considerably more planning than a retreat for ten..
    • Once firm management has decided on the purpose and objective of the retreat, appoint a Retreat Committee and let them plan the retreat.
    • The objective will determine who should attend all or at least part of the retreat: partners only, all lawyers, administrative managers, support staff? In any event, be certain that all eyes firm leaders attend.
    • Invite input, by questionnaire or interview, from those who will attend on what they feel should be on the agenda.
    • Don’t include routine operations matters on the agenda. These belong in regular management or partner meetings.
    • Hold on a weekend. Begin Friday. End by mid-afternoon Sunday.
    • In most cases, select a site which will require everyone to stay overnight. The additional cost is worth it. Some of the best discussions occur over a drink after dinner or during a walk before breakfast.
    • If it is a serious business retreat, consider having an experienced outside facilitator who will also be involved in planning the retreat.
    • The best schedule for a serious business retreat is no more than three sessions, no longer than three hours each. Make sure that all topics can be properly addressed.
    • Don’t schedule business sessions after dinner.
    • Distribute the agenda well in advance along with any reports or “white papers” the attendees should review beforehand.
    • The recreational facilities needed – golf, tennis, fitness centers, etc. – depend on the attendees’ interests as well as the purpose of the retreat. Recreational time for a social retreat will be greater than for a serious business retreat. But, even in the latter case, break time is needed to allow ideas to percolate and the mind to breathe.
    • Plan and check out every detail in advance. Murphy’s Law applies to retreats as well.

    Conducting the retreat

    • Strive for participation by everyone who attends. No one should be allowed to hold his or her comments until a later date. On the other hand, no one should be allowed to dominate the discussions. These are some of the factors an outside facilitator can generally handle better than someone from the firm.
    • Most people participate more actively in smaller groups so include break-out sessions for in depth discussion followed by reports to all attendees for further discussion as needed.
    • Be sure all post-retreat, follow-up steps are understood and assignments made.

    Post retreat follow-up

    • Distribute to all appropriate parties minutes or a summary of the retreat. This is the final responsibility of the Retreat Committee and should be done promptly i.e., within a week.
    • It is usually the responsibility of firm management to ensure that all follow-up action steps are taken and that the schedule for completing them is adhered to.
    • Feedback is important. Firms often have all attendees complete an evaluation form at the close of the retreat and turn it in before they leave.

    A successful retreat is a tremendously uplifting experience – just like walking on water! In both cases it is worth the time and effort to determine where the rocks are.

    Bob Denney

    Bob has planned and facilitated retreats for more than 100 law firms of all sizes throughout the United States as well as in Canada and the Caribbean.

    P.O. Box 551, Wayne, PA 19087-0551 • 610-644-7020 • fax: 610-296-8726  email: bob@robert denney.com • web site: www.robertdenney.com

    Thanks Bob for showing us how to walk on the water with you!

    This entry was posted on Thursday, January 16th, 2014 at 5:00 am and is filed under Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, Tips, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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