Firms should always observe best practices for leading a retreat, regardless if it is led by the Managing Partner or an outside facilitator. Retreats are for brainstorming and addressing big and/or sensitive issues. A retreat is not a partner meeting, which is more operational and routine in nature.
Whether the facilitator is the MP or an outside consultant, these basics should be adhered to:
- Prepare an agenda of the key, sensitive issues that need to be addressed.
- Encourage participants to be open and honest with each other, without fear of being ridiculed or penalized for speaking their mind.
- Don’t allow anyone to dominate.
- No cell phones turned on during the retreat. The devices should never be on the table.
- Conclude each agenda topic with goals and responsibilities assigned for each item addressed..
The MP can be just as effective a facilitator as an outside consultant under certain circumstances. The advantages of the MP as retreat facilitator are:
- Many MPs are good meeting leaders, skilled at getting participation from most and preventing domination by a few.
- Many MPs know the personalities of the various partners and are better skilled at managing their behavior.
CPA Firm Retreats: The Do-It-Yourself Guide helps firms organize their retreats . Chapters include ►ground rules for participants, ►alternative retreat formats, ►logistics and ►how to implement retreat ideas. The book provides specific discussion questions that the facilitator can use to stimulate conversation in topics such as ►profitability, ►managing staff, ►mergers, ►succession planning, ►marketing, ►partner accountability, ►firm governance, ►partner compensation and ►partner buyout plans.
- MPs know their firm better than any outsider. Note – this can be a detriment, too.
- There may be some issues that the MP has been working on for months, perhaps years. An outside facilitator who doesn’t have the perspective and familiarity with these issues may drive the resolution in the wrong direction.
But there are also pitfalls:
- If the MP dominates and intimidates, then honesty and openness by attendees will be very difficult.
- If the MP that tends to lecture the troops and is uncomfortable seeking group consensus, honesty and openness will be next to impossible.
- MPs who function more in an admin role than as a true chief executive, may not have either the authority or ability to confront obstinate partners who resist change.