Ilma from MailerLite

Ilma8 min readBehind the ScenesOctober 10, 2018

Team Building: This might make you uncomfortable

Team Building: This might make you uncomfortable

The more successful your business is, the more you grow your team. The more you grow your team, the more critical team building becomes.

As your team expands, it can be harder to connect with new members and stay on the same page. Team building is a way to bring your employees together to learn how to communicate and build stronger relationships.

But there is one problem. 

Even though HR tries their best to make team building activities fun, most people are not in love with them. Simply search “team building activities” and you’ll find articles like:

  •  “20 Team Building Activities That Your Team Won't Sigh At,”

  • “The Ultimate Guide to Team Building Activities That Don't Suck”

  • “12 Awesome Team Building Games Your Team Won't Hate.” 

A few years ago I believed that team building needed to be fun. I wanted to create the most enjoyable activities to bring our team closer together. While I still think fun is essential, over time, I’ve learned that ‘fun’ does not necessarily equate to stronger bonds.

I came to a realization: our team bonded most during the times that were not about fun, but about being uncomfortable.

team building with balloon

The first time we made team building uncomfortable

We believe that the only time you genuinely grow is when you get out of your comfort zone. It’s good for the team to do uncomfortable things together to become stronger. 

Here is an example of how we challenged ourselves as a team in 2015.

We decided to take a walk together. But not just any walk, we walked 25 km side by side in the hot sun. It wasn’t easy to go up and down hills. People’s feet hurt and they were tired. People complained about feeling uncomfortable, and that was OK. 

team building long hike

But after the walk, we had cold beers waiting and everyone was happy. They were happy the walk was over, but they were even happier that they shared and survived a tough experience.

Did you know that you can change your perspective just by telling a story about the experience?

On that hike day, it was the first workday for one of our colleagues, Darius. When we told him to prepare for the hike, he thought it was a joke. So on the first day, he dressed in smart casual clothing and brought his laptop in a bag (the kind you carry on one shoulder). 

During the entire hike, he was silent and showed very few signs of happiness. Darius started laughing about the situation only when we reached the boat and discussed the hike over cold beers. 

Overall, he viewed it as a fun first day, but clearly, it wasn’t much fun when he was hiking up and down the hills. 


Tough challenges teach you about your team’s strengths and weaknesses 

When developing the team-building exercises for our most recent Workation, I decided to raise the challenge bar a bit higher. We split into three groups of ten and hiked for 10 hours through forests, fields and rivers.

During the hike, we had to complete tasks, such as blindfolding and leading two members through the forest, carrying a team member for an hour and using a compass to find our way. There were no smartphones allowed! Sounds fun, right? I guess it depends who you ask.

team building ten-hour hike

Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.

Jerry Dunn

The majority of the team agreed that the hike took them out of their comfort zone in a big way. We had to rely on each other when faced with obstacles and trust that there was more to every challenge than just winning.

The hike pushed us to our limits, but by doing so gave us some great insights into our team dynamic.

Be vulnerable 

Do you want to guess what happens after 10 hours of hiking?

Everyone is tired, less kind, less polite and they begin to show their true colors. And that is when the magic happens. That is the moment when you let your guard down, show your vulnerable side and learn to connect with the team.

team building blindfolded hike

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.

Brene Brown

The next day after the hike, we had a time of reflection led by psychologists that observed us during the hike. In my opinion, that was the highlight of the workation.

I was surprised to see how quickly you can divide a team and make them compete with each other. For example, during lunch on the hike, all the groups sat separately and discussed their tactics on how to win instead of enjoying food with the entire team. 

It was interesting to see how the three groups created separate “tribes” even though the hike was not about winning.

Only when we reflected on the event did we understand that everyone had similar feelings about this arrangement. We all felt bad for not sitting together, but nobody said anything during the lunch. This is how we learned that communication is the key to team success. It takes courage to speak up, and that is the only way to connect and grow together.

team building ten-hour hike reflection

During the time of reflection, we shared our experiences. Here are a few of the insights from some of the MailerLite team:

Team Building Reflection #1

Remote work needs strong individual personalities and trust, BUT we must come together as a team for long-term success. It requires more communication and fewer assumptions.

Team Building Reflection #2

I realized how much everybody trusts each other. Although I've always known there was trust, it became real on the hike. In the end, our guide still could not figure out how we make decisions. I believe we work well together because we 100% trust that each person will give their best to do their job. This is a special thing for me.

Team Building Reflection #3

Sometimes it is necessary to voice your concerns and ask for help. Also, I will be less reluctant to take on new tasks and responsibilities out of fear of the unknown.

Fun fact: 

SalesForce research showed that employees who feel heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

Too many team-building activities are superficial or based on competition. In my experience, talking about difficult subjects, insecurities and dreams bonds people more than anything else. 

You have to create an environment where people feel safe being vulnerable.


Tough times never last but tough teams do

Whenever an organization goes through a crisis, there’s a very tight bond between people who “survive,” especially if they feel like they did a great job during the process. People feel much closer to each other as a result. It also builds strength, character and confidence. As difficult as it is to tackle a tough situation, the company and team involved can become more resilient than ever. 

Do you know what the BEST team building activity is? Surviving a crisis together as a team.

This summer we had a crisis and a very uncertain situation at MailerLite. The business was facing a challenge, but instead of pointing fingers or making excuses, our team came together to help solve the issue.

When the team rallied together, I appreciated that I could trust my colleagues. There was no inner chaos, only focus on solving the problem as a team. During this time we learned a lot, changed our work process and became a stronger team.

team building that works

What is the main success factor of any team building activity? 

The main success factor for team building is the team. Are you a real team or just a group of individuals? Why did people join your organization? Do they share similar values and goals?

Answer these questions before hiring new people. Be aware of who and why you hire. Be clear about what a new member should expect from your team culture. Before hiring anyone, it’s essential to communicate your company values.

stronger team bond

At MailerLite, our VALUES are at the core of our culture. We refer to them constantly and we use them to help us make decisions and hire new people.

When you know that your entire team is on the same page, it’s easier to navigate challenges together. And when you offer challenges that promote real growth (often through a little discomfort), that’s when team building goes from merely fun to fundamental. 


Please share your experiences with team building. 

Do you think it's necessary for a company? What team-building activities do you like/hate? What activities help you bond with your team?