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Passion, People and Principles

A Shakespearean Retreat

post # 247 — November 22, 2006 — a Managing post

I said in an earlier blogpost that I wanted to seek out praiseworthy things. Here’s one.

Bryan Schwartz, Managing Partner of Chicago law firm Levenfeld and Pearlstein, in Elizabethan dress at their Shakespeare-themed partner's retreat

The picture above is Bryan Schwartz, Managing Partner of Levenfeld and Pearlstein, a law firm in Chicago. Let me use his own words to describe how he ran a recent partner’s retreat.

“I did a Shakespeare theme where I showed some clips from Henry V (1989) starring Kenneth Branagh , an adaptation from something I had learned from the Young Presidents Organization that I belong to. The clips made the messages powerful. The partners had to play the role of the king and determine how they would behave under the circumstances. This lead into the themes below.

“We discussed the issue of managing friendships in business and whether we would deal with those of our friends who were not living up to our firm’s standards for quality and service. Would we hang the thief who stole from the French? We decided that we would maintain our friendship but be firm about adherence to our standards and that one did not conflict with the other.

“We talked about how Henry V walked around and talked to his people to get a sense of how they were feeling the night before the big battle at Agincourt.

“We talked about being optimistic and being of the right mind when we observed Henry’s speech concerning St. Crispin’s Day. We talked about compensation and our subjective plan. You set that up beautifully. We spent 10 minutes on that – a miracle for a law firm. I believe people are realizing that in the absence of subjectivity, which we currently employ, we become a mercenary firm, which we do not desire to emulate.

“We really embraced the fact that we had choices to make. Thequestion about how much of our work fell into the category of “God, we love this”! really hit home with many and we all discussed this at dinner on Saturday night. We discussed the power of change at the dinner on Saturday and weaved it in on Sunday. We viewed the battle scene at Agincourt, where the smaller English forces were highly focused and fought the battle on their terms against the arrogant but larger and better equipped French. We talked about the distinctive weapons that were created and the use of strategy to win that battle. I made the analogy of big firm vs.. small firm and focus.

“We incorporated the scene where Henry is trying to woo Princess Katherine even though he could grab her by the hair and say do what I tell you to do because I am the king. We made that analogy to our associates and also our clients. We focused winning the hearts and minds of people we deal with, not just telling them what to do and avoiding intimacy. I think intimacy is the right word by the way.

“We went through various tensions that exist in the firm and spoke about those tensions out loud. We had a great deal of honest and worthwhile discussion.

“It was probably our best retreat.”

Has anyone else been using Shakespeare or other authors to form the basis for real, substantive discussions at business meetings?


Warren Miller said:

We haven’t been doing it ourselves, David, but we admire those who have. Not-Slick Willie (Shakespeare) has many corporate applications. Carol and Ken Adelman have been doing this for years: http://www.moversandshakespeares.com. From their website, I infer that their primary focus is on Henry V, Julius Caesar, and Merchant of Venice. Unlike Powerpoints, this is the kind of thing that client personnel are likely to remember for years.

They also involve some employees of the client firm, who dress up and have lines in the “production.” The Adelmans get great publicity (www.moversandshakespeares.com/quotes.html – I love those titles, “Chairman of the Bard” and “Forsooth, Check This Consultant”!).

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

posted on November 22, 2006

Juliet said:

In light of Warren’s contribution, I think what’s also worthy of praise is that Bryan provided the creative element for his own firm.

It has been suggested to me that “icebreaker” games for such retreats are only well received when conducted by external facilitators (such as the Movers & Shakespeares), not internal staff / participants.

Hopefully, Bryan’s example shows that the same level of results – in terms of participant engagement and meaningful discussion – can be achieved, if perhaps, there is no room in the budget for external team-building facilitators.

posted on November 22, 2006

Susan Wittenoom said:

Sigh. All that passion and spirit and wardrobe in such a dreary space. Why not rent a local stage and literally find yourself in a theatre?

posted on November 22, 2006

Bryan I. Schwartz said:


Thanks for the nice plug on behalf of Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC. You took the last comment “[t]his was our best retreat ever” out of context of my e-mail. It was our best retreat because you spoke on Saturday and really made us think. It was an enlightened day. The audience was already warm on Sunday. That was why it was the best retreat ever. Nice humility on your part.

posted on November 27, 2006

Shaula Evans said:

David, I just read an article on how reading Shakespeare fires up the brain.

It makes me wonder if incorporating Shakespearean language/text into business workshops might help excite the brains of participants in a way that helps them learn or understand more than if the Shakespeare part was missing.

posted on December 19, 2006