If you want to build an amazing team in 2023,

this is the most important thing…

Rob Bier
2 min readDec 30, 2022
Image credits: freepik (sirichalec2) and Adobe Stock Image (Pcess609)

I’ve been leading and coaching teams for 35 years and my personal experience is completely aligned with the prevailing theory… which is that the most important thing you can do to drive performance as a team leader is to ensure the team has high levels of psychological safety.

I recently came across a framework developed by Timothy R. Clark that makes it easier to understand what this really means.

Stage 1: Inclusion Safety

Your team has reached the first stage when every team member feels they are accepted by the others — that they are not treated as outsiders, or merely tolerated, but are viewed as deserving to belong to the team. Another way of stating this is that all team members think that all other team members have something valuable to contribute.

Stage 2: Learner Safety

You’ve reached the second stage when every team member feels safe to ask “dumb” questions, take risks, and make and own their mistakes.

Stage 3: Contributor Safety

You’ve reached the third stage when everyone feels safe and comfortable stating their opinions clearly, not only in areas they own and are expert in, but in any area that is of importance to the team. This implies a degree of “earned respect” from other team members.

Stage 4: Challenger Safety

You’ve reached the fourth stage when team members feel they can challenge the status quo without negative consequences or ‘bad vibes.’ When people have challenger safety they are able to overcome the natural pressure to conform to group-think and generate more creative and potentially disruptive ideas.

To reach this level requires team members to see their colleagues as people who consistently put the team’s or company’s interests ahead of their own.

What level is your team at today? How does it vary across your team members? What are you going to do to get everyone to stage 4?



Rob Bier

Rob is an expert guide in the world of startup leadership and high-performance organizations. A 3-time CEO, he now advises many startups including 7 unicorns.