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Psychological Safety Book: The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety

Timothy R. Clark is an international authority in the fields of psychological safety & innovation, large-scale change & transformation, and senior leadership development. He has personally worked with more than 200 executive teams around the world. He’s also authored some of the best organizational psychology books out there, including Leadership Bones, Epic Change, The Employee Management Mindset, and Leading With Character and Competence. His most recent book is one of the best books on psychological safety you can find, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation.

This psychological safety book helps leaders move from theory to practice as they try to navigate the ins and outs of their organization’s culture. Clark infuses his personal experience as a plant manager at Geneva Steel, as well as his years of consulting experience, to bring readers practical insights and actionable tips into his psychological safety framework. When used correctly, the book can become a leaders toolkit for building psychological safety on their teams. It’s a ​​hands-on guide that shows leaders how to build a culture of psychological safety in their organizations and create an environment where employees can be vulnerable. With reflection questions and key concept reviews, you’ll learn how to help your teams feel included, fully engaged, and encouraged to contribute their best efforts and ideas.

Timothy Clark Psychological Safety

Timothy R. Clark has one of the bestselling psychological safety books available. He discusses psychological safety at work using his easy-to-digest psychological safety model, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. 

About the Author

Timothy R. Clark is founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, a global consulting, training, and assessment organization that focuses on leadership, culture, and change. Dr. Clark is an international authority in the fields of psychological safety & innovation, large-scale change & transformation, and senior leadership development. He has personally worked with more than 200 executive teams around the world.

Dr. Clark is the author of five books, including his new best-seller, The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation. He has also written more than 200 articles in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Fast Company. Dr. Clark earned a PhD in social science from Oxford University and was both a British and Fulbright Scholar. He also earned a master’s degree in government and economics from the University of Utah.

Before founding LeaderFactor 15 years ago, Dr. Clark served as the CEO for two companies. His mantra to leaders is, “Lead as if you have no power.” Timothy Clark is quick to give readers psychological safety examples that they can take into their spheres of influence so they can become a cultural architect and influence the world for good.

Psychological Safety Framework

Psychological safety is bigger than corporate. It’s deeper than quotas. It’s more than a managerial responsibility. It’s about basic human needs. The need to belong. To grow. To contribute. To create. Each of the pillars of psychological safety fulfills a basic human need that we need at work. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety™ framework acknowledges that we’re humans first and employees second. The framework follows a universal pattern that reflects the natural progression of human needs in social settings. These needs exist across demographics, psychographics, nations, and cultures. 

Just like humans need water, food, and shelter to survive, teams that want to innovate need four things in order to thrive: they need to feel included and safe to learn, contribute, and challenge the status quo. Teams progress through these stages as they intentionally create cultures of rewarded vulnerability across its four stages. 

Inclusion Safety Psychological Safety

Can you be your authentic self on your team? Inclusion safety satisfies the basic human need to connect and belong. In this stage worth precedes worthiness. All you have to do to qualify for inclusion safety is be human and harmless. 

When you have inclusion safety you can bring your whole self to work. When you don’t, superiority and hierarchy dominate your company culture. Barriers are maintained and reinforced. You might be officially on a team, but you won’t feel part of the team without inclusion safety. 

Bonding vs Bridging

It’s easy to bond with people that we naturally connect with. We have the common ground, shared experiences, and similar perspectives that make interaction easy and enjoyable. But what happens when you interact with people that you don’t share a natural affinity with? How do you connect meaningfully with them? How do you bond?

You have to engage in what we call bridging behavior. Bridging behavior attempts to close the gap between who we are, and who they are. As you engage in more and more bridging behaviors and choose inclusivity, you’ll see evidence that those behaviors work. You’ll feel more connected to your colleagues. As you immerse yourself in inclusivity, you’ll see that gap closing and it will be easier to bond.

Learner Safety Psychological Safety

Do you have the space to grow? Learning and growing is a fundamental need that needs to be satisfied in order for innovation to flourish in an organization. In this stage, fear is detached from mistakes, and mistakes are rewarded as part of the learning process. But to qualify for learner safety you have to engage in the learning process, it won’t happen organically. 

When you have learner safety in your organization learning is encouraged and celebrated. Learners are protected. When you don’t, mistakes are hidden and punished. Your team executes more than they innovate.

Detach Fear From Mistakes

Learning involves risk. One of the most important things that you can do to build learner safety is to create an environment in which you detach fear from mistakes. You break them apart so that fear is no longer naturally associated with mistakes. If you are really trying, there should be no stigma, no shame, and no embarrassment associated with mistakes or failure. They are simply stepping-stones. We should reward failure because it’s not failure; it’s progress.

Contributor Safety Psychological Safety

Can you create value for your team? Contributor safety satisfies the basic human need to make a difference and offer meaningful contributions. When we create contributor safety for others, we empower them with autonomy, guidance, and encouragement in exchange for effort and results. 

When you have contributor safety in your organization your team thrives under outcome accountability. Roles are clearly defined, but people are encouraged to think outside of their roles. Small wins are celebrated. When you don’t, autonomy is given with little to no guidance, and team members may feel like benchwarmers. 

The Three Levels of Accountability

In any team, individuals may work under three different levels of accountability–task, process, and outcome. Those who work at task-level accountability need to be walked through every aspect of the job. They have minimal amounts of responsibility and will likely feel minimal amounts of accountability as a result. Once a team member shows that they can complete tasks sufficiently, they graduate to process-level accountability: This is where tasks can be strung together in a predictable, consistent process and they will still know what to do. The third level of accountability is where good employees can become influential innovators: outcome-level accountability. Here how we get our work done, how we accomplish our tasks, and how we manage projects and processes don’t matter so much. It’s all about the outcome. 

This kind of autonomy and trust, when coupled with psychological safety, gives team members permission to push boundaries. They’ll feel a strong sense of responsibility for the projects and deliverables that are assigned to them. They’ll be motivated to make things better, not because they were asked to, but because they want to.

Challenger Safety Psychological Safety

Do you feel like you can be candid about change? Challenger safety satisfies the basic human need to make things better. When we create challenger safety, we give air cover (protection) in exchange for candor. 

Challenger safety gives team members a voice to speak up when there is an opportunity to improve. People can disagree productively. When you don’t have challenger safety teams fall silent and people are punished for their bravery and candor.

3 Ways to Decrease Social Friction on Your Team

Call it when you see it.

Your team needs this shared terminology in order to face friction intentionally. Giving a name to the uncomfortable feeling in the room can do wonders for diffusing it. When your colleagues hear your verbal commitment to resolving moments of social friction they'll catch the vision and follow suit. 

Assign dissent.

If your team can’t make the distinction between disagreement for the common good and malicious disagreement, assign the task of dissent. Take away the urge to make assumptions about the intent of the feedback-giver. Encourage your team to explore negative feedback through an impartial lens.

Break before breakdowns.

When your team gets tired and interpersonal dynamics break down, social friction can explode. You don't have to power through! Take a break when you see this happen. Before you break, make sure your team is aware that high social friction is causing the tension, and that you will return when levels have decreased. 

Creating Psychological Safety In The Workplace Podcast

Culture by Design is LeaderFactor’s psychological safety podcast and is hosted by Timothy R. Clark and Chief Product Officer, Junior. They tackle the world’s toughest questions surrounding psychological safety with series like “What’s Driving the Demand for Psychological Safety?” and “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety.” You can listen to culture by design on our website, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Psychological Safety Resources

4 Stages of Psychological Safety Summary

Youtube 4 Stages of Psychological Safety

4 Stages of Psychological Safety Team Survey

4 Stages of Psychological Safety Behavioral Guide

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