Collaboration lessons from “Game of Thrones”

*UPDATE and SPOILER ALERT: we’ve added some new lessons to this list. If you aren’t caught up to the beginning of the new season (Season 5), you may wish to avert your eyes.

We’ve previously considered the collaboration lessons of leaders and innovators like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Vince Lombardi and Phil Jackson. Now we take our quest for inspiration to the Seven Kingdoms of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

You’re watching Game of Thrones, right? If not, you’re missing out on not just a fine television series, but also a chance to participate in the sort of brain-clearing water cooler talks that can actually be a plus for your productivity.

If you’ve learned your own collaboration lessons from the gentle inhabitants of Westeros, let us know and we’ll add it to the list!

1. Your trust will inspire the loyalty of armies. Or telecommuters. 

Your trust will inspire the loyalty of armies. Or telecommuters.

It’s better to be feared than loved? Daenerys, the increasingly messianic Mother of Dragons, may ask “Why choose between the two?” As you assemble your team, you’ll note that whatever their positions and wherever their locations, they’ll fight a lot harder if they feel respected and if they share your vision.

2. Power doesn’t always correspond to title.

Power doesn't always correspond to title.

“You really think a crown gives you power?” Tywin Lannister sneers. King Joffrey put heads on spikes, but he was ultimately just a sadistic figurehead.

3. Business visionaries sound a little crazy sometimes. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Business visionaries sound a little crazy sometimes. That doesn't mean they're wrong.

Also, visionaries don’t always have good news for you. In an effort to foster a rah-rah positive working environment, don’t shut out the people who are trying to tell you that winter is coming.

4. Competition: it’s better to know what’s out there than be surprised.

Competition: it's better to know what's out there than be surprised.

Don’t get so caught up in day-to-day tasks and minor skirmishes that you neglect to be prepared for invading hordes of baby-killing, zombie-horse-riding creepos (literally or metaphorically).

5. Some people thrive on chaos – and will resist your efforts to fight it.

Some people thrive on chaos - and will resist your efforts to fight it.

If your collaborative efforts are hitting a roadblock, try to find out what’s motivating the person standing in your way.

6. Other coworkers just aren’t natural collaborators.

Other coworkers just aren't natural collaborators.

This is a blog about the myriad glories of collaboration, about how collaboration can sprout like a stubborn lone flower peeking up from a concrete sea. Sometimes, though, you just gotta cut your losses with some people.

7. Redheads aren’t to be trifled with. (Yes, this was written by a redhead.)

Redheads aren't to be trifled with. (Yes, this was written by a redhead.)

This is always worth pointing out for the historical record.

8. Know your flight risks so you aren’t left in the lurch when they depart.

Know your flight risks so you aren't left in the lurch when they depart.

If your whole operation hinges on the presence of one person, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Fortunately, we’re moving past the days when departing employees would take all of their knowledge with them. Collaboration tools make it much easier for successors to, indeed, find success.

9. This guy? Don’t ever hire this guy.

This guy? Don't ever hire this guy.

You can turn collabohaters into collaborators, but the easiest way to assemble your dream team is to get it right coming out of the gates. If collaboration is a cornerstone of your company culture, make sure it factors into your recruiting; see our earlier post on spotting and hiring collaborators. If someone seems ambivalent about working together – or seems like a malevolent, shapeshifting sorcerer – trust your instincts.

10. You never know when old colleagues will come in handy during future adventures.

You never know when old colleagues will come in handy during future adventures.

Be a good collaborator and you’ll be surprised by the ripple effect.

11. There will always be a seat at the table for knowledge managers.

There will always be a seat at the table for knowledge managers.

King’s Landing is not exactly founded upon a culture of transparency. Regardless of how many people have access to information, real power is wielded by those who know how to collect information and process that information in a meaningful way.

12. Avoid premature celebrations.

Business lessons from Game of Thrones

Whether you’re locked in a to-the-death battle with a competitor or you’re simply trying to win buy-in for a campaign idea, don’t presume victory until victory is signed, sealed and delivered. Keep your eyes on the prize; otherwise, your fate can change in the blink of an eye. (Hopefully you see what we’re doing here.)

13. Your secrets aren’t safe.

Business lessons from Game of Thrones

No matter how much you may have changed your mind and changed your life in the years since, that tweet you sent in 2012 about how you want to be a spy who takes down Central Desktop is definitely going to come back to haunt you in your job interview.

14. Rebelling and ruling require different skill sets.

Business lessons from Game of Thrones

As Daenerys discovers, being a benevolent leader can be kind of a grind sometimes; it’s not quite as glamorous as storming the city gates and liberating the downtrodden. Some people make an easy transition from Disruptor to The Establishment, but others are more comfortable as outsiders.

15. EVERYONE DIES! TRUST NO ONE!

EVERYONE DIES! TRUST NO ONE! (OK, maybe it's not the best show for collaboration inspiration.)

OK, maybe it’s not the best show for collaboration inspiration.

All photos: HBO publicity photos (via http://winteriscoming.net)

Adam McKibbin
Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.

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