SUBSCRIBE: Newsletter

Human Resources



Maya Chan, global thinker
in All markets by

The secret to building a high-performing virtual team? Bagels

Human Resources magazine and the HR Bulletin daily email newsletter:
Asia's only regional HR print and digital media brand.
Register for your FREE subscription now »

Leadership strategist, Maya-Hu Chan reminds leaders about the power of the basics when building trust among high-performing teams – and the easiest ways they can ensure their staff are well-bonded regardless of location.

With more and more companies working seamlessly across cultures and time zones I am often asked by clients what the secret is to building an effective virtual team.

The answer is simple: fresh bagels.

(It’s actually really about building trust, but we’ll get to the bagels in a minute.)

Re-building trust

The challenge today is that it is tough to build trust when your team is split across time zones and continents.

So perhaps a second step needs to be added to help trust develop: getting together.

I appreciate that there may be logistical and financial challenges for some organisations in getting together, but it is almost certainly less painful than missing financial targets due to a poorly functioning global team.

Here’s a perfect example. A client of mine, a team leader in a global IT company, asked me to help improve the performance of his project team.

He told me: “My team members are all respected experts in their fields and perform to an outstanding level individually; but I don’t understand why they miss their targets as a team by some 75%?”

I worked with my client to bring them together for three days – not only to work on their challenges but also to re-build the trust.

On the first day we talked openly about what each of them needed from the others in order to build better teamwork and the responsibilities each of them had to the others.

Act with consideration and kindness – the basic human building blocks of trust.

Don’t forget the basics

What was striking was that their needs were really quite straightforward.

They all consistently asked of each other: be respectful; don’t interrupt; listen; say ‘thank you’; and apologise if you’re wrong.

In other words, act with consideration and kindness – the basic human building blocks of trust.

Somehow these ideals had gotten lost along the way because there was no rapport among the group.

They worked out what their top 5 behavioral rules would be for future team interactions to ensure their new-found team spirit didn’t evaporate again.

One year on the team leader called me with the news that his team had just hit 89% of their targets.

I  heard recently of a global virtual team which takes turns, once a quarter, to send local food from their country to other team members around the globe so that they can all share breakfast or snacks together during their regular conference calls.

At a recent team video conference, the U.S. colleagues sent a box of fresh bagels and coffee grounds to introduce team members in the Philippines to an all-American breakfast.

This simple idea has transformed their calls into something that is the highlight of their meeting and the call is now a vibrant and effective communications forum.

Here are my five top tips for building a virtual team that trusts each other and works as well together thousands of miles apart as if they say in the same room:

1. Keep your commitments. 

Do what you say you are going to do.  Keep your promises.

This may sound obvious, but keeping your word is absolutely essential to earn trust with other team members.

2. Share information equally, transparently, and timely.

Make sure everyone, particularly team members in remote locations, are not left out in the communication loop.

3. Give feedback in a culturally appropriate way.

Give positive feedback in public and negative feedback in private.

Be culturally sensitive when delivering feedback so you don’t damage relationships and trust.

4. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Check your assumptions first. Make sure your understanding is in tune with other team member’s cultural tendencies.

Give positive feedback in public and negative feedback in private.

Additionally, always take a step back to understand the other person’s perspective and pressures and give them benefit of the doubt.

5. Help other team members without being asked. 

Doing something kind and helpful, without being asked, is both a simple act of kindness and powerful way to build trust and rapport.

It will also probably make their day!

As a management and leadership strategist, Maya-Hu Chan is consistently ranked in the top 20 by Thinkers50 in the USA. Her book, Global Leadership: The Next Generation, one of 10 she has co-authored, made it to Harvard Business School’s esteemed Working Knowledge list. Now founder of Global Leadership Associates, Chan helps global organisations manage cross border international leadership. Hu-Chan is one of the headline speakers at Talent Management Asia 2015.

 TMA banner press release

Held in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong in mid-April, Talent Management Asia is Asia’s biggest conference on talent management and human capital strategy. The two-day annual event is focused on global best practice HR strategy, features an agenda dominated by pan-Asian case studies and leading global thought leader, and attracts a large audience of senior HR generalists & specialists as well as other C-level executives involved in their companies’ HR strategies.

To get a global and pan-Asian regional view of talent management and to increase your knowledge and skills across the talent management spectrum – recruitment, training & development, compensation & benefits, succession planning, and leadership development – don’t miss Talent Management Asia in April.

To review the topics & agenda, check out the stellar speaker list and reserve your seat visit before it’s sold out. For more information please contact Carlo Reston on +65 6423 0329 or



Gathering 50 top regional chief HR and senior business leaders at a three-day business retreat forum, the exclusive HR Innovation Leaders' Summit will happen from September 9-11. Get involved.

Read More News


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.