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  • Writer's pictureVrunda Chauk

Moving on through the Stages of Psychological Safety

In a research conducted at Google called project Aristotle, the team of researchers discovered that psychological safety is the number one contributor to forming successful teams at the workplace. Many organisations like Zappos or Google are aiming to create psychological safe workplaces. Organizations can increase the likelihood of their people's psychological safety by demonstrating specific behaviors across 4 stages.

Psychological Safety

What is psychological safety?

Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School defines psychological safety as

"a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking".

What happens when people experience psychological safety at work?

When people experience psychological safety at the workplace, they are willing to share their ideas and take risks. Psychological safety is created when the employees feel free to make mistakes because they know that this won't be held against them. It not only makes employees comfortable to work with each other, it also boosts team spirit and leads to innovation.

When employees feel comfortable enough to talk about the challenges they are facing, they can come together and work on solving the problems as a team. They also feel free to ask for help from others (supervisors or peers). When there is psychological safety, employees can utilize their strengths and abilities to perform better at work.

This also contributes to better the mental health of employees, because expressing their true self at work makes them feel valued and seen and in turn helps them perform better at a challenging task. Psychological safety is a need for healthy teams at the workplace.

According to Timothy Clark, there are four stages of psychological safety. Dr. Clark is the author of "The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety".

Stage 1 - Inclusion Safety

This is the most basic form of acceptance within a group. In this stage, individuals feel comfortable to be themselves. This is when the people around him/her do not judge or interrogate the individual and demonstrate acceptance which is required, for the person to feel a sense of belonging. Inclusion safety does not need to be earned, it is owed. It is when the basic human needs of acceptance and belonging are met.

Stage 2 - Learner Safety

This is the stage where an individual feels safe to learn and grow. It is when a person feels free and comfortable to take risks, share their opinions/ideas, ask questions and learn. The process of learning also involves making mistakes and solving problems. At this stage, the individual feels comfortable to do that. This is when the person is open to giving and receiving feedback about their work and feels comfortable experimenting new things.

Stage 3 - Contributor Safety

In this stage, the individual feels safe to make a contribution. The person feels in control and experiences autonomy over his/her work. This is when the person can use his/her skills and contribute something valuable to the team.

Stage 4 - Challenger safety

This is when the person feels comfortable to voice an unpopular opinion. In this final stage of psychological safety, the person feels safe to talk about the things that are not working and propose a better way of doing this. In this stage an individual feels comfortable to challenge the status quo or the way things used to be done and propose a new and effective solution.

The benefits of having a psychologically safe workspace

High performing teams

When employees feel safe with each other, they are willing to share their ideas openly without worrying about being judged by others. Most of the time, team members are hesitant to voice their concerns and suggestions openly because they are afraid to be overlooked by others. Psychological safety at work gives employees the opportunity to be their true self at work, learn together and express themselves freely.

Employee Retention

Employees who experience psychological safety at the workplace are likely to stay longer with the organisation. The need for safety and security is critical at the workplace. Conscious efforts to create a psychologically safe workplace shows that the organisation cares for its employees and values their input.

Boosts Creativity and Innovation

Psychological safety makes it easier for employees to share their ideas with each other, learn together and engage in effective problem solving. It boosts team performance. When employees are comfortable being their true self, they feel safe to engage in trial and error, that will generate innovative results

When leaders cultivate psychological safety, teams and organizations progress through these four successive stages. Do you experience psychological safety in your workplace?


Vrunda Chauk

Behavioral Psychologist

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