Performance Improvement in the Oil & Gas Industry

Attempting to generate improved performance through workforce involvement within the Oil Industry through instilling a team-working concept is not a new process.

Approaches that simply make the assumption that because teams had been given some training in ’teamworking’ would somehow result in greater efficiencies had never worked unless great attention had been given to the ‘actual’ differences we wished to see;

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“The guys on the shop floor creating their own rules? Personnel at all levels involved in decision making and solution finding? It all sounds good.”

Operations Manager

The drive behind this successful project stemmed from the desire to improve safety performance, increase productivity rather than simply reduce costs, and to give personnel opportunities to develop and take more responsibility.

‘The client were keen to develop a greater feeling of “ownership” of their own future and destiny among all the people who work for them. ‘That is easy to say but not so easy to achieve. They needed their employees to recognise that they could make a difference to the way they do things.

‘They needed their ideas and wisdom on improving safety, efficiency and supporting each other in order to become one of the best operating platforms in the North Sea while improving job satisfaction and motivation.’

A team looked at how they could come up with a plan that would take a radical look at the way the platform had previously been managed? Was there a better way to make and implement decisions, one that could shortcut the current layers of hierarchy? Could it be done without risk and would this flatter organisation improve communications and safety? They wanted to explore the possibility of mixed maintenance and operations teams with enough skill and knowledge to handle the day-to-day activities?

The plan was to merge the two departments into single shift units, radically moving the goalposts of the prevailing culture of ‘I produce, you repair’. The advantages would be fourfold: improved 24-hour safety performance, plant availability and production, job satisfaction and motivation, and cost.

The plan would require multi-skilled team members willing to train to cross the divide between maintenance and operations, and lifting the responsibility levels of the teams.The teams would be solution developers and implementers in areas where previously only senior managers would have ‘handed down’ the solution.

‘We calculated a timescale of some two years was necessary to achieve the integration required. That is to develop training and development plans, come up with modified communication and working processes and to develop plans to engage and involve the workforce and management at every stage,

‘The operations teams are concentrating on core activities, none of which were contracted out. Onshore support is streamlined, managing and auditing the contracted companies. They also troubleshoot plant and look at ways of enhancing production and new technology applications.’

This means that senior management now focus on coaching and supporting the teams, checking them for quality and then letting them run with the operations. This element was one of the biggest challenges for senior offshore staff.

“It adds a new challenge to my job as the coaching and guiding approach requires a different set of skills to directing and controlling, ‘I believe it is a rewarding experience for both parties.”

“It’s just like letting go of the handlebars on your bike for the first time, but without the physical danger. You’re a little unsteady at first, but you gain in confidence to initially let go. The rewards are guaranteed when you find the right balance.”

Operations Superintendent

The teams were formed and the change process began we ran a series of workshops and led the four 20-strong operations teams, allowing everyone the chance to express their opinions on the proposed changes and the way they wanted to be managed and communicated with before working together to find solutions.

A critical part of the whole progress was developing mutual trust. The management team visited each workshop for an informal lunch, an exercise considered extremely valuable for building trust by management and teams alike. We helped to implement over 50 initiatives born from the workshops, including ‘reducing paperwork’, ‘developing the best training models’, and ‘improving and streamlining permit procedures’.

‘The quality of the team leaders was a critical factor in the success. ‘They needed people with excellent technical skills and platform experience, who were well respected by their team members, who could lead and command in a crisis, but who also had strong people skills and a real passion in developing their people.

‘The biggest change in the way they do things, is that the operations and maintenance functions are working much closer together and with a much better understanding of each other’s roles, and this means that safety has improved 100 per cent. This is undoubtedly the way forward. Not everyone was entirely in agreement with the new way of working but it’s working so much better than before. There were too many departments trying to run a one-man band, but now we’re all becoming multi-skilled and learning about each other’s jobs.’

The new way of working has also changed the way the teams regard each other, making their bonds closer. ‘The operations personnel previously said mechanics had an easy time of things and vice versa, but now we all appreciate the difficulties.

‘The banter has improved too – it used to be case of operations personnel regarding mechanics as big spanners and instruments as wee spanners. Nowadays it’s fair to say that in many ways we’re all spanners!

Vital Resources consultants spent much time offshore, driving, devising plans and advising and helping the teams to implement their plans. The ’two on two’ off rotational schedule meant that communications between some of the teams was very distant and Vital Resources were able to bridge this gap very effectively. If we had not employed this method, it would have been likely that the whole concept might have’ foundered’, this approach, with their involvement has been vital.

In summary

The platform was run in two major silos production and maintenance. This meant:-

  • Manpower not optimally utilised

  • Poor feedback of information especially between production and maintenance

  • Perceived lack of opportunity to develop skills and competencies

  • Lack of knowledge by personnel as to the reasons for production losses

  • Lack of knowledge of production processes

  • Poor communication between shifts

  • Loss of information between operations and maintenance

  • Lack of longer term integrated maintenance, engineering and production plan.

Vital Resources prepared and facilitated performance workshops, recorded and collated all data and then worked with the offshore and onshore personnel in order to implement the proposals. Vital Resources role has proved invaluable, since as an ‘objective’ third party we have been able to bridge the gap between management and worker and have developed excellent communications at all levels.

In summary
  • Multiskilled team members willing to bridge the gap between maintenance and operations and increase the responsibility levels of the teams

  • The teams are now solution developers and implementers in areas where previously only senior managers would have handed down solutions

  • Perceived lack of opportunity to develop skills and competencies

  • Increased integration between production and maintenance personnel resulting in improved communication, plant ownership and work efficiency

  • Increased focus on plant performance and platform key performance indicators

  • Increased workforce flexibility

  • Increased safety performance

  • Deck crew supporting core teams

This approach to performance improvement has been very successful. It could be used as a model for similar improvements in operating practices across many organisations. Vital Resources have driven the process throughout. We now have a ‘process manual’ based upon the experience on this project which could be used as a tool to replicate similar changes where there is a need to improve performance.

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Further Reading

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