Psychological safety is a term used to describe the perception of feeling safe to take interpersonal risks within a group or organisation. It is a critical component of high-performing teams and fosters innovation, creativity, and growth. Tim Clarke, an expert in organisational development and change, has identified four stages of psychological safety that teams go through as they develop.
Stage 1: Inclusion Safety
The first stage is Inclusion Safety, where team members feel included and accepted within the group. They believe that their contribution is valued, and they are an integral part of the team. At this stage, team members feel comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas without fear of being rejected or excluded.
To create a culture of inclusion safety, leaders must foster an environment where all team members feel valued and respected. This can be done by encouraging open communication and active listening, promoting diversity and inclusion, and recognising and celebrating individual and team achievements.
Stage 2: Learner Safety
The second stage is Learner Safety, where team members feel safe to learn and grow within the team. They are comfortable with taking risks, making mistakes, and experimenting with new ideas. They believe that their failures are opportunities for learning and growth, and they are not afraid to seek feedback and constructive criticism.
To create a culture of learner safety, leaders must encourage continuous learning and development, provide opportunities for growth and development, and promote a growth mindset. They must also encourage team members to take calculated risks and experiment with new ideas, while providing support and guidance along the way.
Stage 3: Contributor Safety
The third stage is Contributor Safety, where team members feel safe to contribute their unique skills and expertise to the team. They feel confident in their abilities and believe that their contributions are essential to the team’s success. At this stage, team members are willing to take on new challenges and responsibilities and are committed to the team’s goals.
To create a culture of contributor safety, leaders must provide opportunities for team members to use their skills and expertise, encourage autonomy and ownership, and recognise and reward individual and team contributions. They must also foster a culture of trust and transparency, where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions.
Stage 4: Challenger Safety
The final stage is Challenger Safety, where team members feel safe to challenge the status quo and push boundaries within the team. They are comfortable with questioning assumptions, challenging existing processes and systems, and advocating for change. At this stage, team members are committed to continuous improvement and are not afraid to take bold and innovative steps.
To create a culture of challenger safety, leaders must encourage and support experimentation and innovation, reward risk-taking and creativity, and promote a culture of continuous improvement. They must also foster a culture of psychological safety, where team members feel comfortable challenging existing norms and advocating for change without fear of retribution.
Respect and permission
Respect and permission levels are crucial in achieving Challenger Safety within a team. This stage requires team members to feel safe to challenge existing processes, systems, and norms without fear of retribution or punishment. To achieve this level of safety, team members must respect one another’s opinions and ideas and have the permission to speak up and challenge the status quo.
Respect is essential because it creates a culture of trust and openness where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or ridicule. Leaders must promote a culture of respect by modelling respectful behaviour, creating an environment where everyone’s voice is heard, and addressing any disrespectful behaviour immediately.
Permission levels are equally important because they allow team members to feel empowered to speak up and challenge existing processes and systems. Leaders must provide clear guidelines on what is acceptable behaviour and encourage team members to take calculated risks and try new things. They must also provide support and resources to help team members navigate the challenges that come with challenging the status quo.
Leaders must create an environment where team members feel respected, empowered, and supported to challenge existing processes and systems without fear of retribution. By fostering a culture of psychological safety that includes respect and permission levels, teams can achieve high levels of performance and innovation.
Psychological safety is a critical component of high-functioning teams, and Tim Clarke’s four stages of psychological safety provide a framework for understanding how teams develop and progress towards a culture of psychological safety. By fostering a culture of inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety, leaders can create a team environment where team members feel valued, supported, and empowered to take risks, learn, grow, and innovate.