One of the frequent conversations I have this time of year is about retreats and goals for 2017. Whether they are partner or administrative retreats, our conversations have a similar flow. First there is the choice of a venue and date, and usually a retreat committee to help plan it. Next there is deciding what to talk about – will this be a planning meeting or a social event? Or both? And if both, how do we balance productivity and play? Great questions!

Let’s start with the end in mind. Consider a ladder where the top is the end goal – the place you want to be at the end of your retreat. Step down the ladder to the bottom rung, where you are today. Successful retreats include significant planning, and relentless follow up. The follow up is often neglected, leaving an expensive weekend of time together that often gets looked back upon with disdain about the business items, and fondness about the social time.

A retreat is the opportunity to focus your firm toward the future, to align the energies of your attendees into a common direction.  Attorneys can be skeptical and challenging, so have data for the discussion points that will anchor the conversation in common knowledge of client feedback, partner surveys, and market intelligence.

Whether you have a committee of two or 10, use your first meeting to decide on a theme, a common direction that represents a challenge you all agree upon. “Our Legacy: 10 years into the future” as a descriptor of a firm focused on succession planning. “Elevating Performance” for a firm focused on maximizing client service. Starting the retreat with a meaningful theme keeps attendees focused.

Next consider the flow of the event – who will talk, and for how long? Resist the urge to open the retreat with a lengthy lecture or “state of the union” address. Instead focus opening remarks to relevant comments to the theme, and limit single speeches to  a small portion of your time together. The majority of the time together is focused on building relationships (particularly trust and respect) and collaborating to solve the problems addressed in the theme.

A side note about the timing of events: If you have multiple days in mind, be mindful of the toll of late nights on productivity early the next morning. Instead focus on quality time, and include small group conversations and brainstorming so everyone stays engaged.

Retreats are a great time to look ahead, while training on new skills. Practicing collaboration is a great precursor to client service teams. Reviewing client surveys is a great introduction to asking for client feedback. Looking at practice area revenue trends is a great introduction to considering marketing efforts and client relationships. Regardless of your theme, committing to action items that are specific and measurable (SMART goals) is essential to the implementation of the great ideas that surface.

This accountability is how you will measure the success of the business portion of a retreat. These action items include timelines and responsible individuals, if not teams or groups. Don’t leave this meeting without scheduling follow up meetings to check on progress, re-evaluate timelines and goals, and adjust them as appropriate.  If you engage an outside facilitator, look for one that will not only help with the planning and delivery, but also the follow through and implementation of your outcomes.

Retreats are an excellent time to step away from the day to day interactions that are focused on your business and step into the bigger picture of where your business is going, and how it will get there. The camaraderie and relationships that are solidified are accentuated with a solid plan to move the firm into the future.

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Also, check-out the article: The Art of War: Strategic Planning Revisited for more about Strategic Planning.