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Make “Speed Dating” a Part of Your Next Firm Retreat

Throughout my many years working with law firms, I have found that interactive games can be a welcome addition to any firm retreat. In particular, games that help lawyers learn more about their colleagues are often more effective than traditional practice group panel presentations.

As firms grow and change, it is important for individuals to know not only about their colleagues’ evolving practices but also their passions and pursuits outside the practice of law. Opportunities for cross-selling can come from knowing about common interests, hobbies and passions that have little to do with practice experience or expertise.

In sales, this is known as product knowledge. So, how can individuals develop deeper awareness of partners’ passions and interests? It’s no easy task when a firm is comprised of virtually hundreds of practitioners. One of the best ways is a “speed dating” exercise at the firm retreat. I’ve shared the value of this game before but thought it was worth revisiting the idea with greater detail.

Check out the evaluations from your last firm retreat, and I will wager that the top scores reflect the value of simple networking time. Keynote presentations are impressive and even inspirational at times. Financial reports and CLE sessions serve important purposes. But the real value at most firm retreats happens when the partners and associates are afforded the time to simply mingle with each other. Yet this precious networking time is often in direct competition with smart phones and similar devices that encourage individuals to tuck themselves into various nooks to connect with clients and colleagues back at the office.

A “speed dating” exercise can be a great antidote to the smart phone addiction and at the same time promote the networking so valuable to attaining better product knowledge. Here’s how it works:

Assemble your attorneys into tables of eight or ten (they must be in even numbers). Seat them directly across from each other as if they were conducting four or five separate chess games (standing can work, but seating is preferred). Appoint one person at the end of each table as the “anchor.”  Once everyone is in position, explain the rules.

Lawyers will have four minutes to introduce themselves and their practices to the lawyer across the table—two minutes for one; two minutes for the other. At the end of four minutes, every lawyer EXCEPT the anchor moves one space to the left (clockwise). I recommend you demonstrate this move to the group before you begin. Otherwise, chaos will reign during the first “move.”

Once everyone has moved to the new positions, the four-minute clock begins again. Two minutes for one; two minutes for the other. Continue the process until everyone at each table has met with his/her colleagues—approximately 40-45 minutes total.

That’s it. Simple but very effective.

A few important logistics:

  1. This is a noisy exercise, so use a noise-maker to control the group. I use a referee’s whistle and demonstrate it before we begin. Signal at both the two-minute and four-minute intervals.
  2. Make sure there is plenty of room between tables for everyone to simultaneously move chairs.
  3. Some individuals will be reluctant to “break” from their four-minute conversations. Remind everyone ahead of time to follow up after the exercise, during a subsequent meal for example. It is common for new ideas for client introductions to emerge from the exercise.
  4. If the individuals have known each other for many years, assign specific discussion topics—best client relationships, prior work experience, family, hobbies, travel, pets.
  5. Consider whether to assign individuals to specific tables or assign tables through a random draw. I would caution against allowing festival seating as individuals tend to gather with friends and the value of the exercise is somewhat diminished.
  6. Conduct a 10-15 minute debrief, asking individuals to volunteer information they were surprised to learn from their colleagues. You will be pleased and surprised by the contributions.

Speed dating is a fun, noisy, amazingly effective way for your lawyers to learn about each other. Many firms have incorporated this exercise into their retreats with great results. Perhaps it will work for your firm as well.

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