Go with the flow

James Cooke works as a Behavioural Leadership Coach in the middle of the North Sea, some 150 kilometres from the British coastline, on a platform producing hydrocarbons. For DEKRA ONE, he reports on the perks and challenges of working in the waves.

Go with the flow
James Cooke, Behavioural Leadership Coach

Working on an offshore platform in the middle of the sea surrounded by nothing but blue water might sound romantic. It surely is an amazing experience due to the dynamics that exist here: from getting to work and the location itself to a product being produced and the dangers it involves, to the day-to-day work scopes each trade needs to accomplish to keep the plant fit for purpose. As a Behavioural Leadership Coach, it is my job to support and encourage leaders in their ability to understand, demonstrate and develop core competencies from their organisation’s leadership framework.

Other coaching projects might be more workforce focused, supporting intervention and communication skills or a blend of both. Underpinning all projects we engage in is our overarching philosophy in the creation of a Culture of Care so as to create safe and reliable outcomes. But first of all, one needs to get here. To get offshore for the first time, you are required to pass a so-called ‘Basic Offshore Survival Course’ which teaches you the specific safety issues and regimes relevant to working offshore and also to equip delegates with the basic emergency response knowledge and skills for travelling to and from the installations by helicopter.

This includes being strapped to a seat, submerged under water and turned upside down. The training demonstrates how to escape if the worst case happens and a helicopter has to ditch. As you can imagine, the training is not everyone’s cup of tea. But I have seen a lot of people overcoming their fears on the pool side, which is an impressive thing to watch. Once you have been trained and deemed competent to working offshore, you can start your rotation. For the most part, two weeks on and two weeks off the platform is the established rota, but some also work in longer cycles. That sounds relaxing at first, but it also means having to be away for three weeks, working twelve hours a day while being in the middle of the sea – far away from loved ones back at home.

Shifts generally start at 6 a.m., with various team meetings taking place including shift handovers, senior leaders exploring the highrisk activities for the day, individual trade work discussions, specific work scope talks of what hazards are present and how they can be mitigated. As a coach, I often observe and support these meetings by offering feedback and offering suggestions along the way as to where improvements might be available and to also congratulate and further embed the good. Usually I then have a number of one-to-one or group coaching sessions which take place either in the office environment or out on the asset. Each location has their benefits in terms of the possible impact for the coachee.

As a coach, my aim is to always try to leave such a session with a difference being made. For example, this might be an agreed behaviour the leader will now practice amongst those they lead, or possibly the leader has learned something new about themselves which can be considered and applied in future engagements. Behavioural and cultural change is by no means an easy thing to achieve. It requires a huge amount of effort and dedication from everyone involved in the project. Over the years, I have learned that central to our ability to truly making a difference and seeing success is the depth of relationships created at every level throughout the project, this allows for the free flow of information, both good and bad.

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