In this first part of two-part story on teamwork and workload management on offshore platforms SCT’s Mario Pierobon reports explores the link with the concept of high-reliability organisation (HRO), the error reduction effort pursued by CRM, and the organisation of teamwork in accordance with CRM principles.

High-Reliability Organisation

To understand teamwork and workload management on offshore platforms it is necessary to first understand oil and gas activities as typical of a high-reliability organisation (HRO).

HROs develop from settings wherein managerial and operational behaviours are interlocked in a scientific attempt to examine from incidents and injuries and institutionalize corrections to enhance protection and performance, according to S.W. Dekker & D. W. Woods in their book ‘The high reliability organization perspective’[i].

HROs are uniquely challenging work environments as operatives’ actions interact with automated expert systems to maintain process integrity. HROs use humans to monitor data flows, understand patterns in complex data, respond to alerts and signals, and sometimes approve or override automatic adjustments, according to Alavosius et al in the journal ‘Leadership and Crew Resource Management in High-Reliability Organizations’[ii].

Error Reduction

The oil and gas industry is committed to improving health and safety performance to reduce errors and accidents, points out M. Crichton in the journal paper ‘Attitudes to teamwork, leadership, and stress in oil industry drilling teams’[iii]. In an error and accident reduction perspective, crew resource management (CRM) plays an important role and, under CRM, teamwork and workload management are central themes. 

According to Sue Cox and Robin Tait in a 1991 book entitled ‘Safety, Reliability and Risk Management’ [iv], one of the first steps in lowering errors is to recognize the elements that make contributions to such errors, which result from human error in addition to procedural and technological failures. 

Teamwork and workload management as defining features of CRM are useful strategies to reduce errors on offshore platforms. According to a 2014 report of the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) entitled ‘Crew resource management for well operations teams’ [v], a step-change development in operational protection and performance of operations (i.e., the whole spectrum of drilling, completions, workovers, and interventions) can be generated via an improvement and awareness of nontechnical skills brought about by CRM.

Teamwork Organisation

Crew leaders must not only manage the engineered technical elements of oil field operations but also interlock the behaviours of crew individuals with the competencies and abilities of group individuals that vary as a function of the work demands. CRM may be considered as a cascading chain of behavioural activities whereby team members correctly make use of the resources available to plan a procedure, brief everybody on roles/functions, detect and file deviations from the plan, discuss corrections, modify activities as needed, debrief at crucial moments, and discover ways to refine the human-machine interface, affirm Rhona Flin & Paul O’Connor in their book ‘Applying crew resource management in offshore oil platforms’[vi].

As to the briefing phase, Alavosius et al affirm that a chain of CRM behaviours regularly starts with a briefing meeting which the group chief informs the group members of the task ahead, reviews their individual and collective roles and responsibilities, and provides goals to achieve. “Following the briefing, the crew members conduct the task and work together to assess progress and meet project objectives. Unexpected events may thwart progress and crew members communicate their observations, perhaps in the format of a debriefing meeting, to decide on an adjusted course of action,” the researchers say. “Upon completion of the task or other significant event (e.g., handoff to another crew at shift change) a debriefing is held to share updates on progress, review actions taken and summarize lessons learned for future operations. These three events (briefing, operations, debriefing) provide useful vantage points for assessors to examine competency by leaders and crew members in context.”

Organising teamwork can be done through the practice of exercises. J. Van Diggelen, T. Muller, and K. Van den Bosch in their book ‘Using artificial team members for team training in virtual environments’ [vii] observe that, for the conduct of exercises, gathering all the group contributors at the same time and at the same place can be a challenge. Even when this is possible, the cost can be high. In addition, team members may have different training needs in relation to their competency levels. One solution is to implement a training platform in a simulator where the roles of some of members are played by humans, while the roles of others are played by virtual agents.

According to Alavosius et al, CRM is a systemic intervention that concentrates on the reduction of human error through training and behavioural change, while using contextual resources available. “Oil field services are initiating formal CRM training and developing a competency framework to gauge the ability of well site leaders for CRM, although, rig simulators are relatively low fidelity when compared to those used in aviation.”

Summing up

In this first part, we have explored the link with the concept of high-reliability organisation (HRO), the error reduction effort pursued by CRM, and the organisation of teamwork on offshore platforms in accordance with CRM principles. In the next article we shall focus on the leadership aspects.


[i] Dekker, S. W., & Woods, D. W. (2009). The high reliability organization perspective. In E. Salas, & D. Maurino (Eds.), Human factors in aviation (2nd ed., pp. 123–146). New York, NY: Wiley.
[ii] Mark P. Alavosius, Ramona A. Houmanfar, Steven J. Anbro, Kenneth Burleigh & Christopher Hebein (2017) Leadership and Crew Resource Management in High-Reliability Organizations: A Competency Framework for Measuring Behaviors, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 37:2, 142-170, DOI: 10.1080/01608061.2017.1325825 To link to this article:
[iii] Crichton, M., ‘Attitudes to teamwork, leadership, and stress in oil industry drilling teams’. Safety Science 43 (2005) 679–696
[iv] Cox, S., Tait, R., 1991. Safety, Reliability and Risk Management. Butterworth Heinneman, London.
[v] IOGP. Report 501. (2014). Crew resource management for well operations teams. Project commissioned by OGP’s Safety Committee and the Well Experts Committee to the University of Aberdeen. International Association of Oil & Gas Producers.
[vi] Flin, R., & O’Connor, P. (2001). Applying crew resource management in offshore oil platforms. In E. Salas, C. A. Bowers, & E. Edens (Eds.), Improving teamwork in organizations: Applications of resource management training (pp. 217–233). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
[vii] Van Diggelen, J., Muller, T., Van den Bosch, K., 2010. Using artificial team members for team training in virtual environments. In: Intelligent Virtual Agents. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp. 28–34.