Team-building is a complicated topic for remote teams. When you think of team-building, you probably think of office happenings like happy hours, ping pong tournaments, or company outings.
At MailerLite, we can’t regularly participate in traditional team-building activities because we are 100% remote. Our distributed team only sees each other twice a year during our workations. It’s the only time our entire team physically comes together.
For this reason, it’s crucial that our team members connect during these 2 weeks of workation. Since it’s super expensive and logistically complicated to bring over 100 people together from around the world, we have to be extremely efficient with our time and choose activities that will deliver the highest impact for team building.
While we want to have fun together (that’s a given!), the real goal is to learn about each other’s projects, connect with old and new team members and grow stronger as a team.
Over the years, we’ve tried many things. Here are our favorite five activities that have helped us to connect and grow in a short amount of time.
Though the term “workation” clearly has the word “work”, we make sure that we dedicate time participating together in activities that aren’t work-related. This doesn’t mean we go for drinks and dance the night away! During the 10 workations I’ve planned thus far, I’ve learned that real team-bonding happens when things aren’t all about fun socializing, but rather about being uncomfortable together.
For example, hiking is a great activity for any sized team. A couple of years ago we organized a hike, but it wasn’t a typical hike—it was a “MailerLite hike”. We separated the team in groups, hiked for 11 hours (I know!) and completed many tasks along the way, like walking in silence for 30 minutes, preparing food and having 2 team members blindfolded at all times. We had psychologists observing us and spent the day after discussing our emotions, what we liked and what we could improve as a team.
Last summer, we all sang Lithuanian polyphonic songs with a trained professional. This might sound like fun, but not when the majority of us can’t sing and half of us don’t speak the language. Most team members felt vulnerable singing out loud and were challenged to stay in tune with 3 different groups. But once we got the hang of it, it felt magical hearing us all sing together as a team.
Activities like these help us to notice small issues in a very short amount of time. They force us to trust each other in order to complete the tasks. Finally, it teaches us to talk about our feelings and why we feel the way we do.
It takes courage to enter a room with 100+ team members that you’ve never met before (and to then spend an entire week together).
To get to know our colleagues faster, we ask all new team members to create a Pecha Kucha presentation about themselves and to present it at the beginning of the workation. For exactly 6:40 minutes, they talk about whatever they’d like to share, from childhood pictures to hobbies and reasons why they decided to join MailerLite.
After the presentations, new team members have an easier time mingling and feel more comfortable within the team. Moreover, all new team members will already have something in common to discuss upon their arrival: How nervous or excited they are about their Pecha Kuchas!
Last year, we organized our first “MailerFair”—a trade show format where every team presents what they’ve been working on for the past six months.
At the fair, people proudly present their projects and answer questions from other team members. A question coming from a COO can be much different than a question from a developer. These different points of view help us to reveal blind spots and improve the project.
MailerFair gives the entire company a bigger picture of what people do at the company and where we are headed for the next six months.
Jeff Bezos’ has a Two-Pizza Rule for meetings: “No matter how large your company gets, individual teams shouldn’t be larger than what two pizzas can feed”.
We used his rule to plan our workation dinners. Instead of having huge dinners with the entire team, we dine every night with random colleagues.
During the workation, we book several restaurants every night and then randomly put people together in groups. This way team members will dine with different people eating different meals every day.
During our last meeting in Lithuania, we not only had group dinners, but we also planned a “running dinner”. Every group had a budget to make dinner by themselves. Some groups cooked meals, others got together for a picnic.
The more complicated the task, the more team bonding happens.
From my six years of experience in planning team-building events, I found that the best ones are those where everyone is involved. For us, this is our goodbye party. During this DIY party, we ask team members about their hidden superpowers or interests and give them a stage to showcase their talent.
In previous editions, we had a colleague reading a chapter from his book, enjoyed team members perform live at a mini-concert, participated in a bingo contest and sang our hearts out at karaoke night.
As a MailerLite tradition, we ask all team members to pack a wig in their suitcase. It gets people out of their shell and into their character for the night. Plus, seeing your colleagues with funny wigs puts everyone in a good mood. Small details make all the difference!
I’m Ilma, COO at MailerLite. I love seeing our customers succeed. When they win, we win (like being named one of the top 5 fastest growing SaaS companies). Email is my passion, although I took a rather unusual path. Before MailerLite, I worked in finance and art, which turned out to be the perfect mix for marketing.