Nurturing Psychological Safety: Understanding the 4 Stages of Safety in Team Dynamics

Understanding the four stages of psychological safety: Stage 1 exists between Exclusion and Inclusion Safety Stage 2 exists between Inclusion Safety and Learner Safety Stage 3 exists between Learner Safety and Contributor Safety Stage 4 exists between Contributor Safety and Challenger Safety Understanding the stages provides valuable insights into the dynamics of team collaboration and the importance of creating an inclusive and supportive environment. By recognizing where your team falls on this spectrum and striving to progress towards higher levels of respect and permission, you can foster a culture of psychological safety that nurtures trust, encourages growth, and unlocks the full potential of every team member. Remember, psychological safety is a continuous journey, and it requires ongoing commitment and effort from all team members to create an environment where everyone can thrive.

Josh Ether

2/4/20222 min read

Psychological safety is the foundation of successful teamwork and collaboration. It creates an environment where team members feel safe to express their ideas, take risks, and learn and grow together. In this blog post, we will explore the four stages of psychological safety, which are characterized by respect, permission, and the presence or absence of paternalistic tendencies. Understanding these stages can help leaders and teams foster a culture of psychological safety and unlock their full potential.

  1. Stage 1: Exclusion - Inclusion Safety (Low Respect, Low Permission): The first stage, situated between Exclusion and Inclusion Safety, represents a team environment with low levels of both respect and permission. In this stage, team members may feel excluded or marginalized, inhibiting their contributions and inhibiting trust and collaboration. The team may experience exploitation, where individuals' ideas or perspectives are disregarded or dismissed. To progress beyond this stage, it is crucial to create a sense of inclusion and establish a baseline of respect and permission for all team members.

  2. Stage 2: Inclusion Safety - Learner Safety (Low Respect, High Permission): Moving along the diagonal axis, we reach the second stage, between Inclusion Safety and Learner Safety. Here, the team demonstrates higher levels of permission, allowing individuals to participate and share their thoughts and ideas. However, the respect level may still be relatively low, resulting in a paternalistic environment where individuals are encouraged to contribute but may not feel fully valued or empowered. It is essential to focus on increasing respect and ensuring that all team members' perspectives are acknowledged and respected to progress further.

  3. Stage 3: Learner Safety - Contributor Safety (High Respect, High Permission): Advancing to the third stage, positioned between Learner Safety and Contributor Safety, the team experiences a significant shift. Respect and permission levels are high, creating an environment where individuals feel valued, supported, and encouraged to learn and grow. Team members are empowered to take risks, ask questions, and share their perspectives freely. However, some paternalistic tendencies may still exist, with guidance and support provided without fully empowering individuals to take charge of their own development. Progressing beyond this stage involves promoting autonomy and empowerment, allowing team members to take ownership of their growth.

  4. Stage 4: Contributor Safety - Challenger Safety (High Respect, High Permission): The final stage, located between Contributor Safety and Challenger Safety, represents the pinnacle of psychological safety. In this stage, the team operates with high levels of both respect and permission. Team members feel empowered and comfortable contributing their unique skills, knowledge, and ideas. They are also confident in challenging existing norms, practices, or ideas constructively, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. In this stage, the team embraces diversity of thought and experiences, creating an environment that thrives on collective intelligence and creativity.

Understanding the four stages of psychological safety—Exclusion, Inclusion Safety, Learner Safety, and Contributor Safety to Challenger Safety—provides a framework for assessing and improving team dynamics. By recognizing where your team falls on this diagonal axis of respect and permission and identifying any paternalistic tendencies, you can take targeted actions to foster psychological safety. Remember, progressing through these stages requires ongoing effort and a commitment to creating an inclusive, respectful, and empowering environment where all team members can thrive. With psychological safety as the guiding principle, teams can unlock their full potential and achieve remarkable results.