Corporate team-building for the mind and body

As International Women’s Day comes and goes, companies in SA still have a lot to do to accomplish real gender parity


As the world celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8, South Africa continues its battle against gender violence and an unequal work space. While the country has made immense gains in gender parity, women in South Africa continue to face the double challenge of gender inequality and pandemic levels of abuse and violence.


To compound matters, the corporate workspace in South Africa is often a treacherous terrain, with interracial and inter-gender relations surprisingly still a tricky terrain for many managers and staff members, often resulting in messy litigation or worse, cover-ups. In their efforts to address these issues companies draw up complicated policies and attempt team-building events to shore up relations while hopefully boosting productivity.


Rather than seeing these challenges as frightening obstacles, TransforNation – a wellness and team-building company based in Johannesburg – believes companies have a unique opportunity to build their workforce into happy, productive and relevant teams, by thinking out of the box with regards to their team-building and HR activities.


Ilana Bellotto, co-owner of TransforNation, has spent much of the past decade teaching self-defence to women, girls and boys from various backgrounds, including human-trafficked women. “The sense of empowerment and grounding it brings to people is contagious,” says Bellotto. “The overwhelming response, though, is an increased sense of self and belonging, no matter their background. It is as much about the mind as it is about the body.”


TransforNation has taken the basic tenet of self-defence and designed a corporate team-building programme, that co-owner Devlin Brown believes changes the game when it comes to team-building. “By merging the foundations of team-building and navigating existing power relations with self-defence as a core activity, we have designed a fun outing with two lasting benefits: team dynamics are actually explored and exercised, and staff are left with vital skills and self-confidence. It helps that it is fun too,” said Brown.


“I have hosted team-building events in the past where the activity was navigating obstacles and racing other teams, as is quite common. While we generally appeared to have fun, one was often left with the question: ‘did we in fact build the team spirit’?”


Brown said that oftentimes workspace hierarchies would be reinforced during the so-called team-building activity. “The boisterous guys would win and then cheer on the slower people. While this made for great photos, how do you think the shy person who always came last felt? Being reminded that they are slow and need to be helped along by the strong crowd?


“I’d often wonder why outings were considered team-building when they were enjoyable to some and quite like pulling teeth for others. I’ve been in corporates where paintball was the non-negotiable team-building activity and most of the staff grinned and went along while despising the ‘waste of a day’. Not quite the team response the CEO had imagined.”


TransforNation takes staff members, be it the CEO or tea-patron, through a journey of physical self-learning and theoretical empowerment. “Self-defence is not about learning how to hurt someone,” says Bellotto. “Obviously, the skills empower you where possible to escape from a dangerous situation, but the core message, the core lesson, is a sense of self, a sense of grounding and empowerment. It happens in a group setting where existing power relations play zero role in your proficiency in the skills and theory sessions.”


TransforNation’s philosophy is that by introducing a new team-building activity that entails physical and theoretical components, companies are able to truly explore team dynamics while at the same time contributing to the national struggle of empowering women to firstly see themselves as equals in society, but secondly equip themselves with skills that may prove vital. “We all know about the despicable levels of violence in this country, and this way companies can give their staff an enjoyable outing while empowering both the male and female staff with real-world skills and knowledge,” says Bellotto.


Brown says their vision is to leave a lasting impression on all those that partake in their workshop. “When you leave a go-cart track, you leave it and it is merely a memory. We want our programme to have a lasting impression. When the tea-patron and CEO have an equal amount of fun and the same level of success with the skill set taught, despite their gender, race and designation, and as their sense of self and their surroundings grows to stronger levels, we believe team-building becomes an investment and not a grudge purchase for the cash-strapped finance guys,” says Brown.




TransforNation is a wellness, self-defence and fitness company based in Johannesburg. TFN, as it is known to its clients and in the social media space, believes in a holistic, natural and wholesome lifestyle. TFN has merged its fitness and self-defence philosophy into a holistic team-building intervention. Fitness and self-defence clients are trained in strength of mind in addition to the physical skills taught. TFN can be found at or on Facebook and Instagram under the name TransforNation Fitness. For more information, feel free to contact them at