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Two Recipes for Success at Your Next Firm Retreat

As you kick off 2016, consider a few fresh training exercises for use at firm retreats or other gatherings. Experiential, active training has become a top priority for law schools and is also highly valuable in the development of a lawyer’s skills regardless of age or experience level. For law firms, interactive application exercises can be particularly effective at firm retreats and offsite meetings focused on business development and client service skills.

With that in mind, below are a two simple active learning “recipes” to consider for your spring (or fall) retreat. Both exercises create a more engaging­—and fun—environment that produces important outcomes.

Secret Shoppers Networking Exercise

Retreats offer the perfect setting for lawyers to learn more about each other as professionals and colleagues. Knowing what others do is particularly challenging for lawyers in larger firms with multiple offices. A simple recipe to help lawyers learn more about each other is “speed networking” with a twist.

Meet (secretly, of course) with a small group of “secret shoppers” prior to the exercise. Assign each to observe a specific networking behavior (i.e., a strong, confident handshake; open, friendly body language; interesting self-introduction; active listening through effective questions).

Recipe BoxAssemble all of the lawyers in a room with no chairs. Everyone should be standing and able to freely move about. Arrange food and drink tables at strategic locations.

Explain the two rules of the exercise: First, find someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. At the “signal” (bell, air horn, whistle), break and introduce yourself to someone new.

Sound the “signal” every four or five minutes and continue through five or six rounds as appropriate.

Once all rounds are complete, the “shoppers” reveal themselves. Each shopper shares the behavior he/she observed and identifies one individual who performed that behavior best. Recognize each “winner” in an appropriate manner and encourage brief discussion. Follow-up conversations after the exercise and throughout the retreat are guaranteed.

Lateral Expertise Quiz Show

Retreats also present a great opportunity for lawyers who are new to the firm to meet colleagues and share their expertise, experience and insights. Lateral partners, in particular, are often invited to join a firm because of valuable legal and/or industry expertise. One effective and memorable way to introduce new expertise to the entire firm is through a quiz show. The recipe is simple and easily adaptable to many tastes.

Randomly select two teams of three lawyers (teams are better than individual contestants in reducing the embarrassment factor) from the meeting attendees. Present an open-ended question, asking the teams to prepare separate responses to a specific client or prospect situation. Give the teams three minutes to develop their one-minute responses. (I like to play different quiz show theme songs while the teams work on their answers and ask the audience to identify the show).

After each team presents its answer and the audience has selected a winner, ask the new lateral whose expertise most closely aligns with the question to share his/her thoughts on the subject. The moderator (managing partner, marketing partner or consultant) can lead a follow-up discussion as the situation dictates.

Each question/response/discussion should take approximately 15 minutes. Four or five questions can comfortably and energetically fill a 60-90 minute session. Don’t forget to recognize the winning teams in a firm-appropriate manner.

These are just two of many interactive group activities worth exploring. The next time you plan a retreat, embrace your creativity and test out a few new interactive learning recipes that will lead to greater firm knowledge and improved personal skills.

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