How to contain the elements that kill a ‘speak-up’ culture – Results from our June 12 Think Tank

How to contain the elements that kill a ‘speak-up’ culture

THINK TANK RESULTS (June 12, 2019)

Two earlier think tanks confirmed the need to break the circle of silence and identified the enablers of a ‘speak-up’ culture. In our June think tank, we focused on how to contain the elements (fear, blame, gossip and defensiveness) that kill a ‘speak-up’ culture?

So what did we find out?

Participants identified not only the triggers that stifle a ‘speak-up’ culture
but also the way forward to an open culture.

The main triggers that kill openness are: experiencing aggressiveness, ego & power and lack of respect.

The way forward has four enablers:

  • Values of openness, inclusive listening supported by a code of conduct are prerequisites;
  • Living these values (walk the talk) and having ‘people’ key performance indicators is even more important. Responsibility lies with both employees and management.
  • Attitudes of learning: learn from mistakes and learn to ask feedback;
  • Rewards and praise to reinforce the values.

Interestingly, only 14% hardly ever observed a situation where fear, blame or gossip killed a person’s ability/inclination to speak up while 28% observed or experience this often to very oftenClearly, there is still much room for improvement.

For more details, download the full report here.

NEXT THINK TANK fall 2019, 17-17.45 CEST (GMT+2)

The subject will be “How can organizations create strengths from failures?”.



OUR THINK TANK OF JUNE 12 2019: How to contain the elements that kill a ‘speak-up culture’

Listen to employees with Synthetron online dialogues
Join the free 45 min global Think Tank on Wednesday June 12

Fear, potential job loss, blame, gossip, badmouthing and defensiveness stand in the way of a ‘speak-up culture’.  This was a key conclusion of our last Synthetron Think Tank on how to foster a speak-up culture.

Have you observed this behaviour or even experienced the impact of a culture of blame and gossip?
Do you want to create a safe culture where employees feel free to speak up about relevant issues?

Then Join our next Think Tank on June 12, 5pm CEST

We will be exploring the ways that culture blockers like fear, blame and gossip can be contained in order to create a safe, ‘speak-up’ environment.

What can you expect? 

  • 45 minutes free anonymous written active participation online from your PC/Pad
  • Enriching discussion with an international crowd of business leaders
  • Exclusive first access to the full report

What you need to do?

  • Sign up to reserve your panel seat:



Interested in participating in other Think Tanks? register here to receive invitations to future Think Tank sessions.

Breaking the spiral of Silence in organizations – Results from our April 3 Think Tank

Listen to your employees in a Synthetron online dialogue and move forward together

How to enable a culture in which employees feel free to speak up


Following earlier Think Tank that identified the need to break the circle of silence, we focused on “How to enable a culture in which employees feel free to speak up”

So what did we find out?

Company culture/management style plays a leading role. Respondents talked about a culture of trust, respect, transparency and empowerment. The absence of fear, blame and gossip is a must.

Also important is the development of skills and competencies: learning to address issues in a non-confrontational way, adopting open (non-defensive) attitudes and developing interpersonal skills that support teamwork and collaboration.

A third enabler concerns roles and responsibilities. Management has to ‘walk-the-talk’ by encouraging feedback and using it positively. Employees need to take responsibility for speaking up.

Interestingly, only 50% of the respondents claimed to be (very) comfortable with speaking up at work, There is still significant room for improvement.

Download the full report.

NEXT THINK TANK Wednesday 12 June 2019, 17-17.45 CEST (GMT+2)

The subject will be “How to contain the elements that can kill a ‘speak-up culture’ such as fear, blame and gossip”.



Our team is growing to better serve you

Synthetron expands its consulting team to Denmark, Spain, Romania, Canada and Washington DC, and adds more consultants in The Netherlands and Belgium teams.

In order to keep up with increased market demand from organizations wishing to engage their key stakeholders in wide-scale engagement, strategy and feedback sessions, Synthetron is pleased to announce that it has increased the number of consultants available to serve you. We are pleased to introduce:

Susan Anglin
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Managing teams and individuals over her 25 year career, Susan is passionate about guiding teams and organizations down the path of change and transformation. Susan’s experience lies with larger corporations as well as smaller tech firms; she understands the value of engagement and alignment when implementing change in operational settings as well as in more strategic situations. Her industry experience covers telecommunications, retail, software, logistics, and government services. She is highly experienced in leading complex change projects, facilitating stakeholder engagement, driving product development and marketing programs. To contact Susan, email her at or call her at +1 (613) 795-2227.

Michael Kull
Washington DC, USA
Michael Kull, Ph.D. is an educator, executive, consultant. His achievements include a top-rank award for conflict resolution for the Federal Government, he served as co-chair for its Knowledge Management (KM) Initiative, and he developed the signature track in Organizational Communications for Marymount University. He helped many fledgling KM companies with their marketing and branding for many years. To contact Michael, email him at or call him at +1 (202) 600-5688.

Evelyne Hollands
Barcelona, Spain
Evelyne has more than 25 years of experience in marketing, communication and business development both on the client and agency side. She has led international teams in multimarket and 360º marketing projects for leading organizations such as Kimberly-Clark, Turkisch Airlines, the Mexican Tourist Board, Mars, World Water Council and the Climate Change Conference of the United Nations. On the agency side she has worked for major communication groups including Omnicom, Interpubic and Publicis.
Having worked extensively in marketing, Evelyne’s strengths lie in developing consumer and customer insights. She excels at establishing collaborative partnerships and relationships with all stakeholders that are relevant to building an organization’s reputation. You can reach Evelyne by emailing her at or by calling +34 672469500.

Esther Lobo
Madrid, Spain
Esther is an experienced business consultant in the fields of executive and team coaching and communication and team-building. Her experience spans over 20 years in the Technology Sector working in Marketing and Communications Areas for companies as Nixdorf, Siemens-Nixdorf and Novell. You can contact Esther at or by calling +34 661 744 151 .

Lars Albaek
Åbyhøj, Denmark
Lars is a strategic and technically minded consultant, with a respectful no-nonsense approach to even the biggest challenges. With his background in Political Science, Lars has held senior positions such as special advisor for the Minister of Culture, Chief of Sales and Marketing for Dansk Autohjælp, and various leadership positions in operations for GPS and security firms. For the last 8 years, Lars has been consulting in the field of security and logistics, and now brings his wealth of experience to Synthetron. To contact Lars, email or call +45 31 123 888.

Daniel Mazilu
Bucharest, Romania
Daniel is an experienced management consultant that has held senior roles in large multinational organizations such as Daewoo Electronics, Gillette, and Sodexho. In his consulting practice, he has assisted companies with transformation projects, mergers, plant optimization and continuous improvement projects – from the shop floor to the board room.

Daniel has significant international experience working in both large and small organizations, managing across cultures and management disciplines. He’s worked in large organizations in executive and general management roles, and he’s also worked for start-ups and smaller companies. To get in touch with Daniel, call +4.0742.208.505 or email

Ingrid Nagtzaam
The Netherlands
Ingrid’s expertise lies in the area of brand and marketing management – she’s applied her expertise for over 20 years in the financial, energy, and fashion sectors and has worked at Interpolis, Essent, Van de Velde, Econocom, and Zilveren Kruis. On the intellectual side, Ingrid has immersed herself in the studies of business, brand management, and organizational psychology. Contact Ingrid by calling +31 6 150 27752 or by emailing

Anne Clark
Antwerp, Belgium
Anne developed her expertise in market research working for many years at both Procter & Gamble and AGB. In more recent years, Anne been working with the non-profit sector and has been advising start-ups in the areas of marketing and business strategy. You can reach Anne at and by calling +32 485 254751.

Diederik van Woensel
Antwerp, Belgium
Diederik developed extensive expertise in retailing and real estate while working as an executive for various Dutch and Belgian (international) corporations. In more recent years, Diederik has been working as a coach for start-ups in the areas of marketing, business strategy and finance.
You can reach Diederik at: or by calling +32 489 6363 76

Find out more about the full Synthetron team

Breaking the spiral of Silence in organizations – Join our ThinkTank on April 3

Listen to your employees in a Synthetron online dialogue and move forward together

How to enable a culture in which employees feel free to speak up


Wanting to dig deeper into the cultural aspects of behaviour which leads to corporate scandals, Synthetron Germany organised an online ThinkTank in 2018 on the phenomena called “spiral of silence”.

Around 20 people working on strategy or HR in various global companies and organizations in Germany took part in a highly interactive 45 minutes online dialogue to exchange views on the “unwritten rules of silence” . The discussion was moderated around 11 questions. The energy was high with almost 200 comments generated during the session.

So what were the key learnings?

– The discussion turned out to be a plea for the courage to speak up – with Silence only approved in exceptional cases.

– There is however an important gap between “will” and “ability” – while 90% of respondents felt that openness and moral courage were needed, only 25% thought that their environment allowed them straight talk about everything – half of the participants did not think so!

What enables a culture in which one can talk about everything?

First a leadership that leads by example and does not block.

Then clear rules of the game that provide guidelines and also provide some safeguards – for instance in case of internal discrimination or personal threat/violence.

Last but not least an environment with a commitment of sharing instead of competing with each other.

Two main area of divergent opinions emerged from the session: whether or not to position oneself politically and whether or not to start struggling with the loudest extroverts (who might be the ones to set the agenda).

Join our upcoming global Thinktank to further explore the topic!

On April 3rd (5pm CET) we will organize a ThinkTank in English to gather global insights on how to encourage a culture where people feel free to speak up. Click on the button below to participate.

Interested to participate in other ThinkTanks? register here to receive invitation to future ThinkTank sessions.

Find out more about this ThinkTank in the attached report (in German)

Will 2019 be a more civil society, with a cleaner ecology and new habits?

Our ThinkTank revealed 3 fundamental levers for a good 2019 year for the world

Early January, we organized a Synthetron Think-Tank on how to make 2019 a very good year.

Based on this 45 minutes very active discussion, the group identified 3 fundamental levers for 2019 to be a good year:
1. Become a more human and connected society, with fair distribution of wealth and future-oriented leadership;
2. Take steps towards a radical improvement in environmental terms
3. Engage people to change habits and promote the change

The pathways towards this imply both a hard policy change and soft behaviour change from all of us. More than 55% of the participants are optimistic and another 25% are cautiously optimistic about the world in 2019.

Their wish for a better political, social and human SOCIETY is all about leadership, democracy and redistribution of wealth, health, social resources, more human connection, trust and responsibility and less consumption. The pathways to realise these wish are:
• Politically, this requires the crafting of a new vision. A happy, low- emission life will help mankind to transition, y more involvement of people, dialogue to find ways forward and an accountable future oriented leadership
• Society will benefit from more transparency and a more open, listening environment; independent journalism will flourish again, and there will be a movement towards a more connected human culture of trust and responsibility

Their wishes for the ENVIRONMENT are for a green, clean planet that is more sustainable; we will be more consciousness that we live in a living planet and making the shift towards green mobility. The pathways to realise this wish are:
• To achieve a cleaner world, with cleaner soil, cleaner air and with plastic and emissions reduction, we will tax the use of cars and carbon, and implement environmental accounting to promote product maintenance instead of replacement. There will be a quantum improvement in technology leading to cleaner energy and alternative natural products;
• Raise awareness and motivate people to make a radical change in their consumption habits, nudging people into behaviour change and more environmentally conscious living.

These participants realised that they are all CHANGE AGENTS and can be more active in making the wishes come true:
• They will demonstrate change of their own behaviour and influence and educate for a more environmentally responsible lifestyle

When looking for wisdom avoid the “fast-thinking” trap, ask “slow-thinking” questions

Ask good questions and generate intelligent insights.

The biggest revelation we had from the last 10 years of hosting online crowdsource dialogues (1) with employees for organisations is that a single word in a good question can make all the difference!

When there are 100 people online for one hour, a badly posed question would waste 700 valuable brain-minutes and an opportunity to learn would be lost. On the other hand, posing good questions generates energy, stimulating all participants to join the conversation. A good question touches hearts and minds. Most importantly a good question uncovers valuable actionable insights and creates highly engaged participants.

Key to formulating a good question is knowing what you are looking for. What type of answers are useful and valuable? What type of thinking do you want to promote with respondents? When you are looking for wisdom you need to ask “slow-thinking” questions.

Avoid the “fast-thinking” trap.

We all intuitively know that there are two types of questions, those that are easy to answer and those that require you to think and reflect before answering. Nobel prize winner, Daniel Kahneman pointed out in his seminal work, Thinking Fast and Slow, that people use two types of brains to answer a question. First there is the more primitive reflex brain that stimulates “fast-thinking”. It is superfast, thinks instantly and operates from the here and now. It uses instinct, patterns, biases and analogies. This reflex brain is a great engine we use all the time to find quick answers to day to day questions such as “can I cross the street now?”. The other is the reflecting brain. This is “slow-thinking” and needs to be prompted and activated. It helps us to think thoroughly, more in the abstract and systemically. We probably all recognise situations where we needed to create the conditions – white space, a shower, a walk – to concentrate so as to be able to think something through. This is when you want to tap into the deep slow-thinking capacity of your reflecting brain

Daniel Kahneman points out that human brains are fundamentally lazy and prefer using their fast reflex brain to quickly answer questions. This means that when hearing a question, the fast brain tends to take over and formulate an answer. On top of that, as he explains, the fast brain is prone to many biases. If you are seeking wisdom or profound advice from a person or group of people, your question needs to trigger their slow-thinking (reflective) brain. Remember the slow-thinking brain is lazy and will only start the deep thinking if prompted. So, when you are seeking wisdom avoid the fast-thinking trap. and formulate slow-thinking questions

Slow-thinking-questions vs. fast-thinking-questions

The image below helps to understand the difference slow-thinking-questions and fast-thinking-questions. All questions seek feedback on the value of a conference participation. The specific formulation of each questions on the left triggers a different thinking and emotional process illustrated to the right. See how more slow-thinking triggering questions (lower left) induce deeper thinking, stimulating the reflecting brain.

  1. Asking a fast brain question like, “How satisfied are you about conference X?” will induce the fast brain to instantly collect a quick answer by collecting reflexes and feelings of joy or boredom. The fast brain will generate an answer to: “Did I like this conference?” It’s a quick, top of mind answer.
  2. Asking a slow brain question such as “What did you learn at conference X?” will request the slow brain to start working: one has to remember what information was shared, compare this with their current knowledge, evaluate the new information and its value, and make a conclusion. This is a very different thinking journey!

Asking slow thinking questions cannot happen without creating the right environment. One where there is:

  • a safe space to speak up
  • an enquirer who is respectful and sincerely interested
  • a question phrased to give energy and fit into the flow of the dialogue.

Knowing what type of outcome you looking for determines the choice between a slow or a fast-thinking question. Are “top of mind perceptions” valuable or do you want to get deeper wisdom?

You can easily test the slow or fast thinking level of your question by answering it yourself. You will discover if you are using the instant “fast-thinking” or need more time using the “slow-thinking” part of your brain.

Watch Joanne talking about asking the right question in this video:

Post by Joanne Celens and Susan Anglin

Joanne Celens (left) is the CEO of Synthetron. Joanne studied business (KULeuven) and International studies at Johns Hopkins University. Contact Joanne at

Susan Anglin (right) is a Consultant for Synthetron Canada. Susan has earned her MBA and the PMP designation (Professional Project Manager). Contact Susan at

This post was first published by Bob Tiede on his blog –

Synthetron helps leaders and managers to engage and get answers to important questions by facilitating moments of meaningful and efficient 1 hour online dialogue with employees /stakeholder groups.

How do we do it?


People often ask us “So what actually happens in a Synthetron discussion?”

Watch our short animation for an overview of how a Synthetron online dialogue works.

Using our unique discussion software, we set up and run a 1-hour online, anonymous discussion.
During the moderated discussion, the people you have invited will discuss your topics based on a script we have developed together to question key aspects of your issue. They can comment, exchange and validate opinions and develop winning ideas via a structured process on a real-time basis, from their own computer or tablet.
The diagram below shows the screen as participants will experience it.




The Synthetron tool allows insights to surface – the group decides what is important regardless of peer pressure, social concerns or politics. And this constructive listening to large and dispersed groups breaks the old paradigm of communications being a one way street or just for the elite. Why not harness the expertise and experience of everybody who can contribute? Our clients often comment that from these focused one hour discussions they learn far more than they expected – and as a bonus motivate and engage all those invited.

After a session, you get a quick report within 2 days with top level results:  number of participants, activity levels and a list of the most supported statements of the group.
Within 2 weeks you will get a complete analysis on the heart of the discussion – what opinions the group have, what ideas have been co-created, what really matters to them.
Click here to have a look at some examples of the rich insights clients get from this process.

Sick of work-stress?

An increasing problem

A recent article shows that work-stress related sickness increased from 55% to 68% last year in the UK. This situation that is likely to be reflected around the world as companies react to the pressure to perform in an increasingly competitive and uncertain world.

Of course this is not without its costs for business. It accounts for around half of all absences and exhaustion makes it hard for employees contribute fully when they are at work. Safety can also be compromised, with accidents more likely to happen when the workforce are tired or disengaged. In our Synthetron MindSet analysis across all the dialogues we run each year, we see more people in a ‘victim’ state – feeling stuck, unable to think creatively or be proactive. A healthy organisation needs its employees to be resilient and in a constructive frame of mind. Not just hanging on in there.

Causes of stress

More than ever in the last years, we saw unhealthy work-stress cropping up in Synthetron discussions. Whatever the sector or topic. In particular employees cite the ‘always on’ culture as problematic. Even their leisure time is no longer relaxing. We have seen evidence that it hits carers (still primarily women) even harder as they try to give children and elderly relatives the attention they need while they are at home – but still have to deal with incoming texts and emails.

Other causes reflect the way business is done these days. They include out of date and cumbersome processes, unnecessary bureaucracy and poor or inconclusive decision making.

In terms of leadership, we are most likely to see concerns that middle managers don’t appreciate staff enough (a thoughtful thank you can go a long way). Senior managers are often seen as disconnected from reality therefore likely to set unrealistic targets.

So what can employers do?

Some companies have taken strong measures to tackle work-stress. Porsche recently joined the swathe of companies considering the introduction of a ban on out of hours emails (see The Daily Telegraph article for more details). And in 2017 the French government pledged to introduce a new law guaranteeing employees the ‘right to disconnect’.

These top down measures are important because they change the nature of the discussion. Like early challenges of unequal pay or unconscious bias they help everybody realise this is a real issue that needs to be considered. Just as important though is to understand what your employees think. Every workplace is different so why not discover the views of your own people in the context of your industry, location and work culture? A largely millennial workforce might be much more comfortable with a blurred work-home-life boundary than one with an older or more traditional employee profile. Though studies seem to find minimal differences between millennials and other generations (see HBR article).

The research can also be a positive intervention

In almost every Synthetron discussion we see this victim state diminish significantly in the course of the one hour discussion. It is a rare opportunity to be able to express your point of view for an hour, free from interruptions or unwanted consequences. In an anonymous space, safe from judgement or mockery. We see some venting on work-stress of course, and then we manage the conversation so that participants don’t get stuck in a moan-fest. But we nearly always see a strong recovery once employees are engaged with the idea that they can contribute to solving the problem. We give our clients a list of the biggest problems and the strongest ideas to tackle them. Just being asked is empowering, being listened to is encouraging and sharing ideas is motivating.

Check out how we can help you with employee engagement or browse our case studies on the subject

The Grumpy Ones

Our team leader in New York, Graham Bobby, is a Brit who maintains a private blog. 
Here is a link  to a recent entry on the subject of employee satisfaction.

This blog offers a personal take on the discussion of what employers have a right to expect from their staff in terms of mood and attitude. Most would accept that affability was a reasonable requirement for customer facing staff, but there is a case to be made for a positive attitude to be expected from all staff.

grumpy person

It is one thing to expect a positive attitude and to recruit based on that expectation, but companies can also help themselves by taking actions to create a positive atmosphere, and here many fail. Bullying, hypocrisy and poor role modelling all contribute to poor employee satisfaction; some leaders also lazily assume that staff will share their own preferences. Many use engagement surveys, but these can be superficial and employees in many firms have become cynical after years of surveys followed by no meaningful action.

Satisfaction drives mood and attitude, and improving satisfaction offers significant business benefits. So there is real value in really listening to staff, and at a granular level. Synthetron offers a proven, cost-effective way to achieve this.

Full article here:

Synthetron works with the crowd at CSW Global

Synthetron works with the crowd at CSW Global

Synthetron CEO Joanne Celens caught audience’ interest as she addressed the tricky topic of how to make sure crowds are wise not foolish.


info chart


The group that came along to the follow-up workshop were intrigued to hear us say that the 6 C’s model of Employee Engagement wasn’t our own idea. We explained that like all Synthetron conclusions it was based on our grounded theory approach – using what we have heard from thousands of employees over the last few years.

We know what things matter because we have heard them over and over again.

Click here to see the model, which is work in progress we are happy to share, and see how your last employee engagement scored against this crowdsourced checklist. Maybe you are ready to try a new approach and level up your employee engagement to improve your score – and of course your organizational effectiveness since that is always the end goal. We’d love to discuss that with you!

Contact Us

Click here to watch our CEO Joanne Celens talk about “how to make sure you get the wisdom from your crowd”