Follow These Planning Strategies and That Is What You Will Achieve
In my first firm retreat blog we explored the various reasons for differing approaches to planning a firm retreat and suggested that allowing more time than you consider necessary may well be advantageous. We considered the location and timing of your retreat and the importance of announcing the date in advance and making attendance compulsory. Finally, we looked at the importance of involving attendees in creating the agenda – that will achieve the sense of ownership of the meeting. Finally, I promised that the subsequent article would explore further key components of planning and executing a successful retreat. If you may like to read or re-read the first article – Don’t Miss Out On One of THE Most Important Firm Meetings.
In the second blog we took a deep dive into looking at the core purposes of a firm retreat – how this differs from regular firm owner meetings. I recommended Stephen Covey’s Book – Seven Habits – we are following the path of habit 3 – “Start with the end in mind”. Should you hire an outside speaker or maybe hire a professional facilitator? You will also find an in-depth overview of some of the common topics covered at a firm retreat and finally an insightful planning questionnaire that some firms have found invaluable. Read or re-read Planning Your Best Ever Firm Retreat (Part 2).
Now we conclude this series looking at some of the final pieces of successful retreat planning. Let’s start by continuing to look at other agenda options…
OTHER AGENDA OPTIONS:
Covid – a review of our actions to date and our future plans. What needs to happen to improve our service during this ongoing pandemic? Do we need to change how and who manages this aspect of our business?
Working from home – review how we have performed in managing staff remotely? What does the future look like for remote working? What has been the impact on productivity? Morale? Job profitability? Culture? Mental health issues? Any other identifiable or foreseeable issues?
Mergers and acquisitions – there is a lot of this going on globally. Baby boomers handing over the reins. Partners disillusioned – maybe issues such as excessive regulation, technology competition, [flat or falling] profitability, covid or maybe just simply a desire to engage in other interests or pursuits.
Service development – are existing niche areas (sector or service specialisation) being exploited? New sectors or services where there is clear demand and opportunity
Partner contribution and accountability – evaluation, time on, recoverability, billing and team development.
Partnership agreement – has the agreement been checked by a lawyer in the past three years?
Culture – exploring areas such as:
- Your strength as a team
- Your commitment to finding better ways of doing things
- Are you exceeding expectations of our clients and also our internal customers?
- Do you demonstrate true grit, determination, passion?
- How do you perform under pressure?
- Do you do what is right?
- Do you communicate well? Clearly?
Mission and Vision statements – are we clear regarding our mission and vision?
Your vision statement focuses on tomorrow and what the firm wants to ultimately become. The vision statement promotes growth, both internally and externally. A strong vision helps teams focus on what matters most for their company. It also invites innovation. A purpose-driven company envisions success as a whole, because they know what success means for their company.
Your mission statement drives the company. It is what you do/the core of the business, and from it come the objectives and finally, what it takes to reach those objectives. It also shapes your company’s culture. Your mission statement focuses on today and what the business is doing to achieve it. Both are vital in directing your firm’s goals.
In the case of a smaller meeting this will probably mean sitting around a board room table – with everyone looking to the leader at the top! A variation, even for meetings with just 3-8 is to meet around a circular table. Last week I held a partner meeting in the north of England. The managing partner of a 5-partner firm called me to ask if it was OK to use a room that seated 20. “Yes,” I replied. This allows your people space to walk around and go to the refreshment table (confectionary, pastries, cookies and continuous refreshments are my usual recommends) is to be encouraged.
For larger groups I always prefer ballroom style with maybe seats around a half table arc so it is easy to look forward.
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Break out groups
You may recall that I recommended talking to attendees in advance to gain ideas for the agenda. So how to handle those requests that perhaps you do not consider are appropriate for everyone to listen in on?
I suggest that during the meeting you introduce a little variety to the “listen and respond to those leading the meeting. In a retreat meeting of maybe 12 or more you could have everyone break out into groups of 3-5 and discuss maybe three to five topics. The instruction should be to report back with observations and options. Ask each group to identify the most important point with suggestions, benefits and any recommends. Would someone in that group, maybe with others, be interested in forming a focus group to report to the partners in the next 6-12 months?
THIS WILL HELP EVERYONE SEE WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE MEETING
A valuable tool for your retreat – maybe it is my age – I am a baby boomer – but I still love the flip chart. This still has great advantages:
- It is visual – sheets can be posted around the wall. Careful – blue/white tack can damage wall paper
- Anyone can go the flip chart and write up a point
- Flip charts can be used to funnel ideas down into action points
- The chartist can ask if anyone has points to add
- It is wonderfully lo tech – and the ‘screen’ doesn’t disappear
- Different people can use the flip chart during the retreat
- You could have a flip chart at the door and in the morning ask people to record their mood score – 1 is lo, 10 is great – or whatever scale you wish to use
- At the end of the retreat this provides valuable source data for any minutes, or perhaps action points that everyone has agreed.
OK, I understand that you probably have some really great technology you wish to use – but what advantages does it have over the flip chart?
Your published agenda should include timing for each point (in which case you might wish to appoint someone as a timekeeper – but not the meeting leader). Maybe you could have an interesting way to give notice that there are, say, 10 minutes left until the next agenda point is to be tabled for discussion.
Ensure you spend time at the end of the meeting reviewing the decisions. Who is going to do what and by when? What results are expected? What resources are required (time and cash)?
Each focus group also needs to:
- Know what problem or issue they are trying to solve and equally what they are not trying to solve (these are fairly common).
- They also need to be clear as to whether they are being asked to recommend or solve a problem.
- Structure of the members of each break out group – One suggestion is for each group to have members fulfil three separate roles:
- Chairperson – you can either appoint table chairs in advance or, as I do, I suggest that the best chairperson is the one who has travelled the furthest to the retreat.
- Then the chairperson’s first role is to appoint a Scribe – the person who records what the table group participants discusses and a Reporter – the person designated to give feedback to the main meeting.
Feedback to the main meeting: When the group discussion has concluded the retreat chairperson should invite reports from each group to provide a summary of their discussions, recommends and conclusions.
Key point – Dependent on the number of participants and room size – do you need to have table mics? A roving mic can usually fairly easily be handed from one person to another.
Maybe an option
How about having background music played on arrival, departure and during refreshment and meal breaks – maybe ask a few [younger] attendees to make a music selection.
It is really important to ensure you ask for feedback from all those attending. Remember the old management maxim that informs us that feedback is the breakfast of champions? Maybe no more than four or five questions to gain a better understanding of how the attendees felt about the meeting. Here are a few questions that you might like to consider including:
- How do you feel about the retreat?
- Do you feel we achieved the objectives/goals set out in the agenda?
- What were the most useful/interesting sessions for you?
- Did the meeting give you what you need to solve problems that were present before the meeting?
- Did our discussions give you clearly stated and executable meeting action items?
- What could have been done to better reach our goals or make expectations more apparent?
Next meeting – make sure you announce the date of the next Retreat.
I wish you well with the planning and holding of your next retreat and trust that this series of articles has been of value.
HERE ARE LINKS TO THE FIRST TWO ARTICLES: