Article by Ryan McKeen
This is one of the most important things that you can possibly do for your law firm. It’s something that, if you do it right, will really move the needle and make a difference in how you practice and how you serve clients. And it will make a difference for your team.
I don’t care if you are a team of one, five, 10, or 20 people. One of the very best things that you can possibly do for yourself is to take a day, get out of the office, and think and talk about your business and engage every member of your team in that process. A retreat is not something that has to be expensive. You don’t have to run out to a fancy restaurant or a hotel or a spa, do trust exercises or do things like bowling. A retreat is about work, and it’s about getting down to business and involving your entire team in the business.
We have had retreats, and we’ve gotten free conference rooms from our local bar association. We have held them outdoors and under tents in the age of COVID. The location doesn’t really matter as much as what it is that you’re doing. And I’m going to try to set you up for having the best retreat that you can.
Survey Your Team
Prior to doing a retreat, we ask every team member some questions. They’re very basic and open-ended such as:
- What would you like to discuss at the retreat?
- What are the things that we are doing well?
- What are the things that we could improve upon?
- What are our pain points?
- Where do you see the firm in five years?
- Where do you see the firm in one year?
We want them to be thinking about the big picture, and we want some basic feedback heading into the retreat. Now we publish that feedback and create an agenda from it. Everybody going into the retreat knows what it is that we are going to be discussing. And that alone is a very worthwhile exercise. As you learn what your team is struggling with or what your team thinks, we can tap into those ideas and get them to think about things before they ever set foot at the retreat.
Create an Agenda
You don’t want a retreat to be rambling and unfocused. You want to focus your efforts and your energy at your retreat. The best way to do that is to have an agenda to allocate time to those things, move through the agenda, and let people know in advance. This way, they can be doing some thinking on things prior to the retreat.
Make It Offsite
One of our very basic rules, pretty much our only rule, with the retreat is that it has to be offsite. You have to get your team out of the office. You have to turn off your phones and put them away. And for us, the retreat has to be during a weekday.
We do a 9:30 to 3:30 retreat. Six hours is way more than enough time. And that way, people aren’t worried about getting their kids. The later start signals that it’s a different kind of day. We want people coming in relaxed, refreshed, and ready to work.
Make It Fun
There’s continuous food. We usually cater lunch. There are non-alcoholic beverages at our retreats –so it’s sort of a fun atmosphere—and donuts. I think all of those kinds of things are really important, but again, make sure whatever you’re doing, that it is offsite and very convenient for your employees. Something that they can look forward to.
We like to end our retreats by heading out to a restaurant or bar and have a little fun or a happy hour thereafter. You may want to think about something like that as well.
Bring a Laptop and a Projector
We actually do work at our retreats, and if we are talking about editing our case management system, we are pulling it up on the screen. We’re not just talking about changes. We’re actually making those changes as we talk. And this is a huge difference-maker in any retreat because the worst thing, in my opinion, that you can do is to have a retreat and talk about things but not accomplish anything.
Action is where the rubber meets the road in business, and you should be taking action at your retreat. It is easy to project screens in today’s world so all can see, and doing so is valuable.
30 Ideas in 30 Minutes
What we do is we go around in a circle, and everybody has to just throw out some idea as to how we can improve. And here are the basic rules of this: you have a minute, and there are no bad ideas. It could be anything. It could be a marketing initiative, a community initiative, an internal team initiative, etc. It could be how we request medical records. Regardless, everybody is required to go around and offer at least one idea. And in a discussion of that idea – every response has to begin with “yes and.”
What we found in doing this is that 30 ideas in 30 minutes really turns into about 30 ideas in 90 minutes. Allocate extra time on this, but just give people some space on your team to be free and to express themselves and to throw out ideas that are, you know, a little bit out there to encourage you to stretch your thinking. You may even want to kick off the discussion with an out-there idea like, “How about we wear costumes to work on April 12? We’ll call it office costume day.”
And maybe an idea that’s a little out there leads to something that is really a great idea and something you can implement. If nothing else, it’s going to make people on your team feel heard and valued.
Block Off Time to Implement
Generally, we have our retreats on a Friday, and I usually block the Saturday and Sunday to actually go in and make the changes we talked about, or as many of them as we can, or pick off some of the low hanging fruit. And that way, it really reinforces the importance of the retreat. It brings those good ideas into practice immediately, so you start getting the benefit from them directly.
I hope this article has helped you. I hope it’s given you some practical advice on how you can have a retreat on a very limited budget and get some ideas that will really change your practice. There’s no question over the years that so many of the fantastic ideas that have made so much difference in our firm have come from investing probably about two workdays a year into these exercises.
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