July 31, 2013

Every day, you work hard for your clients. You think about their issues, help them plan and strategize to make good decisions, and handle legal matters of all types.

But, how much time do you spend working hard for your most important client – your own firm?

meetingToo often, the day-to-day pressures of client work can distract you from thinking about your own practice, where it is going and what you should be doing to improve and grow. You can’t afford to neglect your business.

A firm or partner retreat is designed to help you set aside time to work “on” your business, as opposed to “in” your business, as the book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber describes it.

Having a successful retreat does take planning, however. There are a number of questions you should ask in the planning stages.

What result do you want from the retreat?

Think about where your firm is in its life cycle and development. You may need to work on teamwork among partners and staff. You may need to strategize on market development. Perhaps expansion is a possibility, and you need to decide how you want to expand.

The key is to have a clear purpose. You can only accomplish so much in a day or two, so be realistic. Focus. You’ll have a better outcome.

Who should attend the retreat?

Once you’ve decided what result you’re going to pursue, you can better determine who should attend.

There are times when only the management team needs to meet. For other issues, you may need all the attorneys in the practice.

It’s a good idea to occasionally have a retreat with the entire team, especially if you’re going to strategize on how to better serve clients or how to improve your team’s interactions.

Make sure the right people are in the room to accomplish what you’re after.

Where should you meet?

It is always better to meet offsite than in the office. There is something stimulating about being in a neutral and different setting.

You’ll be less distracted offsite, away from the phones or urgent client drop-ins. Whether or not you need to travel out of town or go to an exotic location is a matter of choice. Overnight stays out of town can give the team more time to connect without the distractions of home.

Wherever you meet, make sure the facilities fit what you’re trying to accomplish.

Should you hire an outside facilitator?

In most cases, an outside facilitator is a good idea. First, a facilitator can manage group interaction without regard to the political structure of the firm. Everyone will have a chance to participate and will be encouraged to do so.

A good facilitator will help you plan the meeting and keep your group on track so that you accomplish your desired outcome. Facilitators can also interject activities and tools into your meeting to help you think through issues or break through barriers. A good facilitator is well worth the money.

What issues should your retreat address?

Your retreat should focus on issues outside of your firm’s routine operations. Ideally, it will provide the forum for your management team to reach consensus on matters that will dictate your firm’s future. Here are several valid reasons for conducting a retreat:

  • To clarify your firm’s strategic plan
  • To pull your team together
  • To identify your firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • To consider leadership succession matters
  • To develop or refine your marketing plan
  • To explore new lines of business, merger possibilities or expansion strategy
  • To plan and budget your next year’s activities

Any one item on this list can be a compelling reason to have a retreat. Assess your firm’s status in each area. Determine which topics have the highest priority, and plan your agenda accordingly.

Be careful not to jam too much into your allotted time frame so that you have plenty of time to properly discuss and act upon your agenda items.

What happens after the retreat?

Most retreats conclude with a list of items that need to be done. If they aren’t completed, the retreat will ultimately be a failure.

Making improvements in your firm requires continued work and attention. A retreat is just one step toward making those improvements happen, but it is an important step.

Use the time to rally the troops, build excitement about what the firm can accomplish and gain buy-in. You may be surprised by the results.

This article was originally posted on July 31, 2013 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at marketing@grfcpa.com.