Lessons learned by leading discussions at an Oil & Gas workshop can be applied throughout the engineering industry
Every other year, as winter fades and spring begins in Canada, Oil & Gas professionals from around the world gather in Banff, Alberta for the Banff Pipeline Workshop. This beautiful mountain town becomes an epicenter for collaboration, innovative ideas, and conversation—providing an experience unlike any other industry event. The workshop was conceptualized in the mid-90’s as a venue for a select number of owner /operators to share stories about what does and doesn’t work in the pipeline industry.
From there, they would create action plans for the items requiring improvement. In the early days, the attendance was about 50 people including a research-oriented facilitator group to steward the action plans. Presently, the event hosts over 800 of the most talented and ambitious representatives from across the industry.
Facilitating and encouraging active participation from such a large and diverse group can be challenging. But the lessons I have learned attending this event can be applied throughout the engineering and design industry. Here are my top five takeaways to encourage participation and new ideas.
Every other year, as winter fades and spring begins in Canada, Oil & Gas professionals from around the world gather in Banff, Alberta for the Banff Pipeline Workshop. Photo courtesy of Bob Worthingham.
1. Preparation results in participation
When hosting a workshop, meeting, social mixer, seminar, or any activity where you expect participation from as many attendees as possible, it is very important to set the stage for the event. The Banff workshop committee requests session organizers to host mock sessions. This makes them more comfortable and ready for the unexpected.
Whether it be doing a dry run for a technical presentation, setting an agenda for a meeting, creating an icebreaker for a social mixer, or having students do a pre-read before a seminar or course—planning results in an interactive and productive outing.
_q_tweetable:Ultimately, sharing and collaboration are only as productive as the behaviors of the people that are undertaking the activity._q_
2. Develop trust and respect
The ground rules of entering any workshop session state: “all ideas and expressions are welcome, and participants are not to judge each other.” The industry requires creativity and innovation to move forward, so we all must be open minded about changing the status quo and embracing new and sometimes unfamiliar ideas and technologies.
In practical terms, this means leaving your ego at the door and treating everyone as equal when it comes to sharing experiences and ideas. This is the core differentiator that makes the Banff Workshop an inclusive venue for all and should be the status quo in all our work environments.
3. Adapt your communication techniques
As the Banff workshop sessions grew to over 100 people, it became clear not everyone was comfortable bearing their souls in front of a large group of strangers. To remedy this, the event introduced electronic message boards in each room so that attendees could anonymously provide comments on the session topic. Everyone gets a voice and all attendees can contribute to the outcome.
In the workplace, communication techniques can vary greatly. There are digital platforms including instant messaging platforms like Skype and social media forums like Yammer. There are also more traditional techniques like well documented reports, meeting minutes, anonymous surveys, or closed-door one-on-one sessions. When leading a meeting, you must recognize not everyone is confident enough to openly challenge the status quo. Ultimately, the goal of good leaders or facilitators is to create awareness and solicit input among all levels of attendees.
Ultimately, the goal of good leaders or facilitators is to create awareness and solicit input among all levels of attendees. Photo courtesy of Bob Worthingham.
4. Expanding your attendee list
When the Banff Workshop first formed, it was a small group of professionals in a niche industry still in its infancy. Now the event benefits and captures the industry’s latest and greatest, by including all cross sections of members from owner/operators, consultants, regulators, suppliers, and academics that are trying to better our industry performance.
I regularly witness the benefits of including specialists from sectors like Oil & Gas, such as Mining, Power, Dams and Water. It fosters collaboration on solutions that were previously considered the domain of one discipline. This type of culture often starts from the top down. I see that both at the organizing committee for the workshop as well as with industry peers.
5. Deal with conflict
During the first iterations of the Banff Workshop, pipelines were literally out of sight and out of mind for most of the public. Nobody outside of those deeply entrenched in the industry were talking about the impact of pipelines on society. Fast forward to 2020 and pipelines are a lightning rod for society to debate the impacts of global energy consumption and production. The Banff event evolved by tackling themes like performance and perception (what do individuals not working in the industry think of us), spotlighting keynote speakers, and inviting attendees from stakeholder groups such as Indigenous landowners dealing with energy infrastructure.
Public engagement and understanding the viewpoints of those that oppose what we believe to be important has become common place in our industry. Now as we invest and advance our performance, we must accept input from those that disagree with the vision of what we are trying to achieve. This lesson is important for your everyday work as well. We must be willing to deal with conflict and listen to those who disagree.
The Banff event evolved by tackling themes like performance and perception, spotlighting keynote speakers, and inviting attendees from stakeholder groups such as Indigenous landowners dealing with energy infrastructure. Photo courtesy of Bob Worthingham.
Creating a culture of collaboration
I first attended the Banff Pipeline Workshop as a young engineer with about five years of industry experience. Now 20 years later, I have progressed through several volunteer roles resulting in my current role as Lead Co-Chair of the organizing committee. This workshop has molded the way I approach the industry and how I interact with my peers.
Ultimately, sharing and collaboration are only as productive as the behaviors of the people that are undertaking the activity. At a point in time when the pipeline industry is under intense scrutiny, I would like to think we can truly rise above the background noise and create progress through innovation and collaboration.
About the AuthorMore Content by Dennis Zadery