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 6), 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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 iMeet Central is definitely going to come back to haunt you in your job interview.
14. Rebelling and ruling require different skill sets.
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. Organizational silos aren’t always bad; sometimes they can lead to rather interesting innovation.
Cersei keeps a creepy Dr. Frankenstein wannabe on retainer, and it’s a decision that, however morally dubious, seems likely to pay destructive dividends in the upcoming season. To be clear: we do not advise turning your employees or teammates into Frankenstein monsters. However, in your rightful rush to knock down departmental silos, don’t be shy to let a few visionaries operate with autonomy, even if it means going off the grid a bit.
16. Don’t ignore the grievances and grudges of your underlings—even the interns.
Disgruntled team members can become destructive team members when they feel like their opinions (or family histories) are discounted.
17. Beware false prophets.
Amazon is cluttered with self-help books for aspiring entrepreneurs and collaborative champions; most of these aspiring lords of business light don’t have much to offer beyond repackaged platitudes and black-and-white “rules” that aren’t built for all the gray areas of business. When your gut goes against the advice of a self-styled visionary, don’t be afraid to trust your gut.
18. EVERYONE DIES! TRUST NO ONE!
OK, maybe it’s not the best show for collaboration inspiration.
HBO publicity photos via http://winteriscoming.net