Firm retreats can take many shapes and forms. With blended work teams, some going into an office and others working remotely, it can be challenging to plan the details of a retreat. And while many of us have a desire to get together with our colleagues to discuss, learn, and reconnect, we lack the desire to travel to meetings, or attend yet another Zoom conference call. Whether the retreat will be  in-person,  remote, or a blend, it is important that the objectives and experience are differentiated from any other meeting.  

The planning process should not be minimized and should start at least six months in advance to ensure needed data is collected, calendars are blocked, logistics run smoothly, and objectives are met. 

The first step is to identify the purpose for your retreat. One definition of “retreat” is to withdraw to a secluded place for rest, relaxation or meditation. In the context of a firm retreat, the purpose might be  to establish a five-year vision for the future, develop a succession strategy, or update your strategic plan. You may be picturing your retreat as pulling the whole firm or a specific group together for some much-needed teambuilding, reconnecting, and culture development. The purpose may be educational. It is key to identify your intended objective and outcomes as you plan your retreat.

Then consider who should be included in the retreat. At first glance this may seem easy, but it is important to contemplate the voices and perspectives that should be included.

When organizing a vision, strategic, or succession planning retreat the traditional default is to invite only members of the partner group, but this might be too exclusive. What about including your high-potential future partners? They will have important roles in owning the execution of plans and they will own the outcomes from your planning during the retreat, so we recommend they have input into the future of their practice. To avoid blind spots and bias, consider the diversity of the group that is invited to participate in the discussion. Perhaps a third party should be invited to create awareness of trends in the profession and to objectively facilitate difficult conversations, to minimize the influence of selfish interests of the stakeholders. (We all have selfish interests. It is a matter of acknowledging them and being willing to set them aside for the greater good of the organization.)

To design a teambuilding event, make sure everyone on that team, or in the firm, is included. Avoid minimizing people’s roles within the firm by excluding them, including interns and operational administrators. To see this written down may seem ridiculous to think they would be excluded, but too often minimizing statements like, “we don’t need admin there,” are made. Having a sense of belonging is a key factor to job satisfaction and engagement and you’ll want to include all members of the team you’re planning to enrich.

A well-considered agenda should be designed to produce an impactful retreat. For most types of retreats, consider conducting some pre-work before putting pen to paper. This may include:

  • Conducting an electronic survey (include a wide range of perspectives, experience levels, service lines, departments, etc.)
    • To get complete candor you may want to conduct a confidential survey that is fielded by an outside resource
  • Performing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis on the subject you’re planning for (ask all stakeholders to input)
  • Asking stakeholders to perform a Keep, Stop, Start (KSS) exercise to identify themes and new ideas.

Foregoing this prework and asking people to give feedback live and in-person during the retreat can be challenging. Some people struggle generating quality, thoughtful responses on the spot. By using a structured approach to pre-retreat work, you will garner greater specificity in responses.

Develop a clear agenda one to two weeks prior to the meeting. This way people have expectations about what will happen and where they may be expected to contribute.

Once the topics of the agenda are defined, identify the facilitators. Avoid defaulting to partners-only facilitation, or having the most senior members of the group facilitate. Instead, your retreat offers a great opportunity to create visibility for up and comers in the organization, and tap into specialties or passion areas for various team members. This empowers them to contribute and provides fresh, new points of view. Depending on the top motivators of those invited to contribute, it could be a real boost to their overall motivation and engagement.

When the retreat objective(s), participants, pre-work, agenda and facilitators are set, it will be time to confirm the best format for the retreat. Remote meetings can be wonderfully effective, but there are also times when it is best to pull everyone together in live “3D.” Whatever format is chosen to hold the retreat, remember to make it interactive and participative. If the experience is  one person talking at everyone, that material can be pre-recorded or emailed, and people can digest that information at the time most convenient to them. To justify the cost and time of pulling everyone together live, it is important to ensure the event creates discussion and a lot of interaction.

To plan an impactful retreat here are a few more do’s and don’ts:


  • Live your culture– remind everyone of the core principles of your culture during the event and make sure to lead from them. Plan an event where the core cultural principles are felt and experienced throughout, not just words on a slide.
  • Encourage well-being– plan a group walk or run or an accessible yoga class in the morning or evening so people feel safe exercising in a new location or plan a remote workout class people can do from their remote locations (cross training, yoga, etc. there are many options available post pandemic). Order healthy snacks as well.
    • When conducting remote retreats, care packages can be sent to everyone in attendance or offer gift cards so they can get the snacks they like.
  • Plan an ice breaker– to get people reacquainted and talking. The facilitators will appreciate it.
  • Set ground rules for the retreat– This establishes expectations for participations and ensures the purpose is understood. Make sure interactivity, trust and authentic sharing are part of your ground rules so participants are clear they were invited to be part of the discussion, not to observe.
  • Designate a recap writer– so that person knows they are capturing the decisions made, due dates, and owners for each action agreed upon.
  • Follow up after the retreat – Share an update on how agreed upon decisions are progressing. Communicate with participants from the meeting, and a wider audience so they are not left wondering what happened in the retreat and what looming changes may affect them.
  • Communicate appreciation – to all participants. People hear and feel appreciation differently. Just being invited may not let them know they are appreciated. Say it and show it.


  • Don’t socialize with all the people you already know– as the organizer of the event, consider seating assignments to mix up people from different offices, service lines or departments.
  • Don’t pack too much into the agenda – This will contribute to mental fatigue and minimize discussion.
  • Don’t schedule client meetings during breaks and meals – The value of the retreat is not just what is shared during the session, but the connections made over meals and during the breaks. Set expectations that those at the retreat will not be responding to email and share a breakthrough communication for emergencies.
  • Don’t be all talk and no action – This kind of meeting is demotivating and a time waster. Ensure decisions are made or placed in a parking lot to be decided at a later date.
  • Don’t set too many next steps – Retreats are supposed to be invigorating and inspiring. It is tempting to spin up many new ideas. Limit the new ideas committed to no more than three big rocks. Smaller actions can be established under those to incorporate other people but limit the overall initiatives to three.
  • Don’t make pre-work too cumbersome – If the pre-work is too long, people will not complete it, or too much data may be collected to be useful. If people take the time to contribute their thoughts and input, they will expect that topic will be addressed. Keep the data collection narrow enough to be digested and discussed.
  • Don’t shut down new ideas or discourage differing viewpoints– be careful to encourage differing ideas and out of the box thinking. Allow people to constructively share things they think aren’t working or should change. If you engage in retreat “smack down,” you will stifle engagement and participation.

Retreats can be such rewarding experiences! We facilitate and teach at many retreats each year and we are already being invited to 2024 events. Assign an owner to plan your retreat and start now!

All the best,