In an earlier post, I covered why your accounting firm should host a partner retreat, how you will benefit from it, and I provided some tips for managing the logistics. Here’s a refresher.
Now let’s get to the meat of the matter: Setting the agenda.
You want partners to walk away from a retreat feeling energized and focused on moving the firm forward. Your agenda will be the roadmap to achieving this.
Engage Partners in Agenda Setting
Agenda setting is one of those activities in which a little work on the front-end can go a long way. In my role as a facilitator, I often start by interviewing each retreat participant one-on-one. From these conversations I gather:
- What they perceive to be the firm’s strengths and weaknesses
- Their expectations for the retreat
- What items they think should be on the agenda
- How they will measure the success of the retreat
- What they personally would consider a retreat ‘win’
DIY Tip: If your firm is not working with an outside facilitator, I’d recommend collecting this type of information via an anonymous survey. You can easily accomplish this using a tool like SurveyMonkey or something similar.
This prep work is important for a few reasons:
- Early wins. You might be able to identify an item that can be addressed in advance of the retreat. I’ve seen it happen where a partner thinks something is a big retreat-worthy issue. Once it’s put out there for consideration, however, the issue is resolved after a few quick conversations in the office. From my perspective, this is great! It frees up retreat time for other worthy items and the team heads into the retreat with an outcome already under their belt. #winning
- Discover themes. Collecting feedback in advance allows you/your facilitator to identify themes. If a particular topic comes up multiple times, it may warrant being a retreat agenda item. It stands to reason that choosing topics where there is already some buy-in and interest among the partners will result in more thoughtful, meaningful, and in-depth discussions.
- Pulse check. It is important for everyone to feel heard. Pre-retreat info gathering gives everyone the chance to help inform the agenda and express their thoughts. Trust me, if someone is feeling dissatisfied with something, it’s better to know in advance. Otherwise, you run the risk of your retreat conversation being hijacked. I’ve seen this happen and it is usually uncomfortable for everyone involved. Additionally, it will kill the team-focused, productive vibe that you’ve worked so hard to create.
Narrow Your Topics (and be Realistic)
Once you identify all the possible agenda items for your retreat, you’ll need to narrow them down. As you prioritize topics, let your firm’s strategic vision help guide your decisions. Focus on what is going to move you towards that vision first.
I’ve found that it is best to stick to two or three topics per day for a retreat. This may not sound like much, but remember you’re not discussing the brand of paper towels for your firm’s kitchen. You are looking at the big picture, setting direction, gaining consensus and upping your leadership A-game.
For each agenda item, you’ll need time to set the stage—build consensus around why the item is important to the firm, review where you’ve been, and where you stand today. You’ll then need time to explore the possible solutions and think creatively about how the firm will move forward on the item.
You’ll also want to identify who will lead each item and what resources/ materials/ background information will aid the discussion.
Once you have your agenda items, putting words to the specific outcomes or actions you want to see will set your team up for success. Do you need to make a decision? Do you need to hear opinions and create a committee for follow up? Whatever the next step is, it should be defined and included with your agenda. This helps everyone be crystal clear on what each agenda item is after.
Bonus: defining outcomes helps hold the team accountable for achieving them during your time together. And what CPA doesn’t love accountability 😊.
If you are thinking of hosting a retreat for your firm, let’s have a conversation. In addition to retreat planning and agenda setting, as an outside facilitator, I offer impartiality, help manage group dynamics, and can share resources and best practices. If you’d like to discuss more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.