The Corner Office: Retreats

The Corner Office: Retreats

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In The Corner Office, we invite Managing Partners at law firms from across the region to share information about the strategies they employ to keep their teams motivated, effective, and focused. For this issue, we asked them to reveal what sorts of firm retreats and activities they host and/or organize for their lawyers.

Andras Posztl, Country Managing Partner, Horvath & Partners DLA Piper (Hungary)

We have a team-building weekend every year involving the whole staff. A few recent examples include visiting an adventure park, rafting, hiking, games for team building (like tug of war and bubble football), and a forest Segway adventure.

Besides this, we regularly participate in volunteering and charity actions, including participating in the UNICEF Fund Raising Cycle Challenge and taking part in major running events like the Vivicitta, K&H, and Spar Marathons to support Magic Lamp, a Wish-Granting Foundation for children suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

Panagiotis Drakopoulos, Senior Partner, Drakopoulos Law Firm (Greece)

In terms of team building, we hold Christmas and end-of-court season dinners for the entire office in each country separately [the firm has offices in Greece, Romania, and Albania – ed.] and have organized a couple of retreats over the past few years for the Romanian office.

I would not say we do as much as we could, nor that we do it in an organized and consistent manner, and a mid-term priority of ours is to do more, in a systematic way, and, most importantly, include activities involving all our countries together. This last part would help develop a cross-border mentality and boost collective consciousness of the firm’s regional approach towards a global market.

Alexandr Cesar, Managing Partner, Baker & McKenzie (Czech Republic)

We have two outings every year. In March (or around March) we go skiing (or cross-country skiing or simply hiking), usually in the Alps, and in September we go to different places in the Czech Republic, to the countryside, to do sports and other outdoor activities, depending on what the particular place has to offer: hovercrafts, scooter trips, dragon boats, shooting sports (including gun and bow shooting), climbing, etc. Our outings are usually two-to-three- day trips, reserved for our staff members only. It’s about the beautiful outdoors, good food, experiencing new adventures, and fun.

We also organize some activities to which families of our staff members are invited, the most popular being the Christmas parties and the St. Nicholas parties. The St. Nicholas parties take place at our office and are designed for children to play a major role. Parents bring homemade food and sweets, and the children can participate in a number of fun competitions, where winners are awarded with sweets and small presents. The highlight of the event is when a group of our staff members, dressed-up as St. Nicholas and his devils & angels, appear and give presents to the children – provided that they have behaved nicely throughout the year and on condition that they sing a song to St. Nicholas. The Christmas parties are for our staff members and their partners, and are evening events that take place in a good restaurant & bar venue in Prague, with great food and music and often connected with some activities – curling, bowling, etc.

Zoltan Faludi, Managing Partner, Wolf Theiss (Hungary)

“No trainer – but retreats for fun only.” This is our concept of team-building exercises. We at Wolf Theiss deliberately do not engage trainers or arrange for dedicated and organized team-building exercises. I had some bad experience in the past with other firms and decided to avoid this type of “training” at the new firm we set up in 2007 for Wolf Theiss in Budapest.

We do work hard and are professional throughout the year – even if the year is not the most successful one. We deserve a weekend to relax and enjoy ourselves. As there are couple of sailors in the office, including myself, we started a sailing weekend at Balaton in 2008. This July we held our ninth Wolf Theiss Regatta. Nothing has changed. That says everything. No professional lectures or any formal content over the weekend, just sailing and party. The safety briefing may be the most professional part of the exercise. For a team of 40-45 people it is easily manageable and we enjoy it very much.

Beyond the sailing retreat we celebrate regularly and use even professional occasions to have fun and spend time together outside of the office. We find occasions such as promotions of our colleagues, our fifth anniversary, various events, a spring and after-summer party. We even celebrate birthdays. These little efforts contribute to a warm and relaxed environment that everyone appreciates and admires. At the end of the day, we spend more time together than we do with our family – it must be more than work; it must be fun. 

Damir Topic, Partner, Divjak, Topic, Bahtijarevic (Croatia)

As our people work long hours, we are very sensitive in taking their additional time for team-building events. Therefore, two or three times a year we organize barbecue parties outside the city which our colleagues attend together with their spouses and children. It proves to be the best gathering for our colleagues, since they enjoy good food and nice wine together. These parties are without any particular scenario or schedule – just enjoying being together outside the office and having a nice time with our families. The peak of the season is the Christmas party, with more fun (live music) and entertainment (karaoke), etc.

Gonenc Gurkaynak, Managing Partner,ELIG, Attorneys at Law (Turkey)

ELIG, Attorneys-at-Law has been sponsoring a Turkish wheelchair basketball team, ELIG Avukat Burosu Engelli Yildizlar (Disabled Stars), for the past three years, and we are proud that during this past year our team made it to the top Turkish league, along with well-respected teams such as Besiktas and Galatasary.

Our team plays every other weekend, and when the games are in Istanbul, there is always a lot of support from ELIG lawyers and staff who have really gotten behind the team during the past three years. The office coordinates transport to wherever that week’s game may be in the city, and every month or two we get together for a pre-match brunch or post-match dinner so that we can make an afternoon of it. It is also a great way of way of getting our own team together outside of the office. We attended a rousing match against Besiktas a few weeks ago, and while our team may not have won this particular game, they held their own with a well-deserved score of 71-51. We were on hand to support the team 100%, even if it was a challenge drowning out Besiktas supporters with their home advantage.

Uros Ilic, Managing Partner,ODI Law Firm (Slovenia)

At ODI, retreats are purely a time for the lawyers and other staff members to build relationships with their colleagues through a series of fun activities. The aim is to have a relaxed, social day away from the busy legal practice, telephones, and e-mails. The retreat agenda is kept light, with planned social activities and meals. As most employees at ODI are fitness fanatics, and most live by the slogan “healthy body-healthy mind,” recreational activities are always high on the agenda. To appeal to the lawyers’ naturally competitive nature, we always have a competition of some sort.

In June we went to Planica, in Slovenia – which is famous for ski jumping competitions – for some bush walking and then, for the adrenaline junkies, went on the world`s steepest zipline, which is 566 meters long and where you can reach speeds of up to 85 km/h in just a few seconds. The day finished with a nice meal and some drinks in Retece, a village nearby. I’m not sure how to measure success of such an event apart from seeing people relaxed, happy, and enjoying themselves.

Eugenia Sutkiene, Managing Partner, Tark Grunte Sutkiene (Lithuania)

The last six or seven years we have taken the entire office (including support and administration) abroad for three-or-four-day skiing events. We have been skiing in Slovakia, Italy, France, and a couple of times in Austria. We have not abandoned this idea even in the deepest economic crisis time in 2010 and went to the Silichy skiing resort in Belarus, not only to have fun, but a bit of exoticism too. This was a good opportunity to spend some time with our Belarusian colleagues. With the office growing (now we have more than 130 people) the skiing event is turning into a very costly and challenging exercise logistically and otherwise but our people love it. It is an excellent team-building event, and we do not have any intention to give it up. We also have an annual pan-Baltic-partners skiing event. We have a summers gathering of the three Baltic offices semi-annually. Our departments and practice groups have team-building events a couple of times per year (i.e., sports, stress management, and various fun events with elements of training). We also have an annual golf tournament for our clients, where most of the senior lawyers participate very willingly and have a lot of fun with the clients and together. This event is very popular among the lawyers and clients. Said events not only unite our team but also motivate our employees and teach them to work as a team, increasing the unity level.

Mykola Stetsenko, Managing Partner, Avellum (Ukraine)

Avellum aims to create an atmosphere where every member of the team feels comfortable and motivated. We never force team-building exercises. I would even say they spring up naturally; we only support our people in their urge to do what they love. As an example, we have regular movie nights: we buy some snacks and watch a movie using a projector in our conference room. Our team loves to participate in the film selection process – people come up with their suggestions and then vote to choose the best option. The organizing committee usually uploads two or three movies, since we rarely finish by watching only one of them.

We also love to celebrate some special occasions. We try to escape from the city to celebrate New Year’s Eve or Avellum’s birthday. For example, we had a wonderful time at Bukovel (a ski resort in Ukraine) and Batumi (in Georgia). We have plenty of sports lovers and travelers with us who continue to come up with amazing ideas. Our people lead active lifestyles and engage each other in various activities, from running and bowling to culinary master classes, concert going, even board games.