Several weeks ago, I attended a monthly lunch meeting hosted by a local I.T. professional group called AIM. The topic of the meeting was psychological safety. In all honesty, when I saw this topic, I was not too excited. However, the food is usually good, and it is valuable to interact with other I.T. leaders from the valley, so I went.

The presenter was Dr. Timothy Clark, and to my surprise, the discussion was very engaging.  Dr. Clark shared information from his book titled “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety.”  The context of his presentation was focused on the importance of psychological safety in agile software development, but I believe the principles apply to building an agile culture within any company. The four stages he talked about were, inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety and challenger safety.  Here is the “Wade Judd simplified version” of each of these stages.

Inclusion safety is the ability to feel a part of the team, not considered an outsider.  Learner safety implies you feel safe to participate in a discovery process. You are willing to ask questions, try different approaches and make mistakes along the way. With learner safety you feel comfortable participating as part of the team. Contributor safety, I believe, means you are a valued member of the team. You have the skills and capabilities to be assigned tasks and to successfully complete those tasks. I think this also indicates the team has confidence in you as a member; you have delivered results and thus helped boost the success of the entire team. The final stage is challenger safety. Challenger safety is what allows you to question things as they are without fear of repercussions. I would translate this as the willingness and courage to ask, “Why do we do it that way?” and not be satisfied with the “Because we have always done it that way” answer.

This month, Associated Food Stores celebrates 83 years of existence. The company we are a part of today, I am sure, looks and acts much differently than the company did in 1940. For us as a team and company to continue to succeed and thrive, the principles outlined by Dr. Clark are critical to our success. We have great team members in all areas of the company.  These team members know their jobs, have the skills to fulfill their responsibilities and have great ideas on how we can be better. No matter our place within the company, having a culture that embraces the stages of psychological safety allows us to capitalize on the abilities of our great team and be an agile, progressive company.

There are many positive things going on within the company. The success of these efforts can be assured as we work together in a “psychologically safe” environment, a place where team members are valued, comfortable asking questions, safe to share ideas and willing to challenge the “traditional” mindset.

Thanks for all that each of you do as a part of our great Associated Food Stores team.