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Across the Seven Kingdoms: What Game of Thrones Teaches Us About Work


SPOILER ALERT: this blog discusses detailed plot information about the television series Game of Thrones, up to and including season seven.  If you’re not caught up yet, save this post and go finish watching before you read it!  If you are up to date on the series, read on!

If like me, you’re one of the 30 million US viewers who eagerly watch HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones, then you’re probably also anxiously awaiting the (eventual) arrival of its eighth and final season in 2019.  And, like me, you may or may not be spending that ridiculously long waiting period rewatching the first seven seasons and getting into heated discussions over plot points and character development.  (No?  Just me?)

Well, in the midst of rewatching and re-analyzing, it’s come to my attention that despite all the dragons, White Walkers, and other fantastical elements of the show, we can actually learn several valuable lessons from Game of Thrones that are applicable to today’s workplace.  No, everyone in corporate America isn’t fighting for the Iron Throne or dealing with the impending arrival of the Night King and his undead army from the north.  But, much like our favorite characters in season seven, we find ourselves working together in our companies toward a common goal - whether it be revenue growth, company expansion, or new product lines.  Even with the best goal and vision, working alongside different personalities isn’t always easy - just ask Jon Snow how much work it is to lead a diverse, opinionated team against the enemy!

Why have so many people, of all different interests, become fans of a fantasy show?  It’s because the story of Game of Thrones is about so much more than dragons - it’s about humanity, heart, and relationships between people.   Take a look at some of these examples from the show that illustrate lessons we can apply to our own real-life work situations.

Send a Raven

When information needs to be shared across Westeros, there’s only one way to send a message - via raven.  This mode of communication has proven crucial in driving a number of storylines and spurring action on the show.  Just look at Sam Tarly’s raven to Jon Snow in the first episode of season seven, in which he informs Jon that he may have located a large source of dragonglass, the very thing Jon needs to fight the White Walkers, on the island of Dragonstone.  Without that letter, Jon Snow and his team would not have the resources they need - and Jon would not have traveled to Dragonstone to form the alliance we’d all been waiting for with Daenerys Targaryen.

Communication is key, and while we don’t use ravens in our world, we do have email, messaging, and the good old-fashioned knocking on someone’s office door.  At this point, there is really no excuse not to communicate. Effective communication is crucial not only within your own team but also across departments. Although many companies still function with departmental silos, a company cannot be united behind one mission and achieve its goals without communicating properly and regularly.  86 percent of employees and executives blame workplace failures on lack of collaboration or ineffective communication.  It’s the concept of corporate symbiosis - departments working together to solve a problem and create the best possible solution for their clients, their company, and their coworkers.  Want an example of corporate symbiosis at work between marketing and development departments? Check out our blog, Corporate Symbiosis: Just Talk to Each Other.

Have a Cause

Jon Snow’s mantra throughout season seven has been “Winter is here.” He has always been more removed from the politics and power struggle of Westeros, having no real interest in the Iron Throne and focusing instead on the real problems in the North.  But in this past season, it becomes Jon’s job to convince leaders of the other noble houses to band together against the impending threat.  In a telling display of the human tendency that “seeing is believing,” most of his peers only recognize the danger once he physically presents it to them - whether that’s Daenerys swooping in to save the day beyond the Wall or Cersei Lannister and company recoiling from the wight that Jon unleashes from a box.

In the workplace, as in Westeros, far too often conflict becomes people vs. people when in reality, it should be people vs. problems.  In fact, 60 to 80 percent of workplace conflicts stem from strained relationships between employees.  Just consider the growing strength of Jon’s coalition as he continues to add allies.  Divided, there is no way any one of the houses or individuals can defeat the White Walkers - but united, they stand a chance for survival.

The same is true for organizations.  Employees at all levels must be willing to rally around a central cause - the company’s mission - that permeates everything the organization does.  The resulting collaboration and teamwork will foster creativity and learning while blending the various talents of team members to create the strongest outcome possible.

Trust Your Gut

Our intuition is often correct when it comes to understanding our coworkers (and other people in general).  But sometimes we second-guess or question that intuition - which doesn’t always yield the best results.  Sansa and Arya Stark suffer from that problem throughout most of season seven.  The sisters have reunited, but their historical sibling rivalry and dislike has bred an alarming amount of distrust.  When Littlefinger tries to drive even more of a wedge between them by planting notes for Arya to find and convincing Sansa that Arya wants to kill her, it seems like that unfounded distrust has finally won.  But before we as an audience can start an uproar, the season seven finale reveals that Sansa, in fact, trusted her gut instinct that Arya would never try to kill her.  The Stark sisters are then able to come together and work with their brother Bran to expose Littlefinger’s schemes and betrayals - and eliminate him as an enemy.

People grow and change with experience.  That was true for the Stark sisters, who are no longer the young girls they were in season one, and it’s certainly true in the workplace.  Jeff Stibel, CEO of Dun & Bradstreet and an M.S. in brain science, outlines your gut instinct as one of four guiding principles for leading teams:

“Gut instinct is what your brain does. The brain is a vast prediction machine - it takes whatever information it has, it swirls it up, and it makes a guess.  And that guess either proves correct or incorrect.  The more you study something, the more you do something, the more your gut takes over.”

As we advance through our careers, we gain more experience and learn to trust our gut instinct more in making important workplace decisions.  While weighing the facts and options is generally a best practice, in the end, it’s often your gut instinct that will guide you.  And if your coworkers are truly aligned with organizational goals, they will probably have the same gut reaction.

Have a Gameplan

Planning and strategy are a core part of any successful business, including the business of politics.  Just ask Tyrion Lannister - he’s been strategizing since well before he gained access to an official battle map of Westeros at Dragonstone.  Tyrion inherently understands people, and he forms his strategies and advice around that knowledge.  Re-watch an episode and count how many times Tyrion says some version of “I know my sister” before delivering sage advice.  He knows what to say to the different individuals he interacts with in order to best communicate with them - and he knows how to cleverly plan to get what he needs.  Just look at how he discovered that Grand Maester Pycelle was the traitor in the small council while he was Hand of the King, by planting different stories with different small council members to see which one would spill the news to Cersei.

As in Westeros, success cannot happen in the workplace without a gameplan - from the company as a whole to departments like service, sales, and operations, to individual employees.  Yet, on an individual level, 95% of a typical workforce does not understand its organization’s strategy; and on an organizational level, 90% of organizations fail to execute their strategy successfully.  There is an opportunity in today’s workplace to change that narrative, and we are remiss as a workforce if we do not take it.

Treat Others the Way You Want to Be Treated

This is, of course, a classic lesson we’re all familiar with.  But don’t forget what happened to Ellaria Sand and her daughters as a result of Ellaria’s own actions - Ellaria poisoned Cersei’s daughter Myrcella in season five, and when they finally meet again in season seven, Cersei returns the favor by poisoning Ellaria’s daughter Tyene and forcing Ellaria to watch her slowly die.

Bottom line: in both Westeros and the workplace, how people treat you can often be a reflection on how you treat them - so you might want to avoid dishing out any Long Farewell poison.

Winter is Here

Game of Thrones loves its cliffhangers - from Jon Snow’s “death” in season five, to Bran Stark’s discovery of Jon’s true parentage in season six, to the White Walkers’ entry through the Wall in season seven.  Although we might have to wait months (or a year!) for the show to return, we don’t have to wait to see what happens within our own workplace.  After all, while White Walkers, dragons, and imminent death may not be real-life causes for concern, we can reflect on the lessons Game of Thrones offers and take them with us into the workplace.

“There is only one war that matters.  The Great War.  And it is here.” - Jon Snow

Get an in-depth look at what each of the Game of Thrones houses would be like as office employees - and how you can manage them all - in our white paper, Winter is Here.  Click on the button below to download now while you wait for season eight!


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