What Game of Thrones Teaches You About Work

What Game of Thrones Teaches You About Work

5 minute read
Noreen Seebacher avatar


How hot would it be to have your own dragons, especially if you could take those fire-breathing beasts to work?

Who would dare question your judgment, your work ethic or your annoying inclination to notice gaps in strategic plans — while everyone else nodded "yes"  — with massive flying reptiles at your side?

Ah, dragons. They were all I could think about after Lou Barreiro, the content and strategy manager at Chicago Creative Space, made an unexpected link between HBO's Game of Thrones and your typical office.

The popular series, which broke its own audience record with the season 5 premiere last Sunday, revolves around several Houses all vying to become the supreme rulers of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

"The intricate storylines that have captivated audiences worldwide are complex narratives that in some cases, believe it or not, come down to culture. While we hope your company is nothing like Westeros, there are definitely a few workplace culture lessons to be learned," Barreiro wrote on the company blog.

Game of What?

Not a Game of Thrones fan? Sigh. Maybe this will change your mind.

No one sums up the complex story line any better than UK super fan Sue Perkins, who concedes her love for the Game Of Thrones is equaled only by her love of cake. My kind of woman.

Anyway, as she so succinctly explains, “The king has died, leading to a power vacuum, and several great families are brought into a struggle [the game of thrones], to be the successor…"

“Without getting into too many specific characters, because there are so many of them, it’s about the jostling and vying for power among great dynasties, where there’s no such thing as moral black and white, and everything is somewhat tainted."

And if that's not enough, yes dragons, "permanently flying over the charred landscape, beheadings, some involving a horse, boobs aplenty if that's your bag, whispering in dark corners, politics, bordellos, random emasculations, the massive quest for the iron throne and all of those matters undecided as yet."

Sound like your workplace? Nope, mine neither.

But Barreiro claims the show’s most powerful characters draw familiar parallels to company employees that exist at every workplace. And if you look closely enough, the show provides guidance on how to coexist with different types of workers and create a positive company culture with all types of characters, he argues.

I decided to give him a call.

Connecting the Dots Characters


As much as I love those dragons, I wasn't clear how Game of Thrones provides insight about workplace culture. So I asked Barreiro the obvious: Do you lay awake at night thinking about the relationships between pop culture and real life?

"Any show that looks at the way people work together or has anything to do with people in general has lessons you can apply to the work world," he said.

Learning Opportunities

"How should you act with your employees or interact with your supervisor? How can you get along with another department that's a little bit of your rival? Film, movies, TV shows can be a reflection of the real world. It doesn't have to be 100 percent accurate, even if you have dragons or whatever, but you can definitely learn some lessons from it."

So Game of Thrones is really just a story about a lot of flawed people, all struggling to get ahead despite genetics, traumatic childhoods and unspeakable horrors. And that has a direct impact on workplace culture, something that plays a big role at Chicago Creative Space.

The Chicago-based firm helps other companies tell stories about their culture and their space, primarily through videos. "We're kind of like an employer branding tool," Barreiro said.

Company culture is a hot topic these days, but too many people think they can recreate the Google atmosphere with a Ping-Pong table and free beer on Friday afternoon, he explained.

A great space is only one element of company culture. The more important part is the talent you hire and the way you develop your employees, he said.

That's a reality made clear in Game of Thrones, where the people residing in the most lavish palaces are not necessarily the happiest or most fulfilled. Fair enough.

But what do you do if you find yourself working with someone like Cersei Lannister, whose jealous and unruly behavior consistently clouds her vision?

Don't Hire That Guy!

Barreiro thinks the real value of Game of Thrones is the insight it offers on coexisting with different personalities at the office — as well as hiring the right people from the start. Take Ned Stark, which Barreiro described as the perfect example of a poor cultural fit. Because he refuses to adapt to the political culture, he accelerates open rebellion.

Someone might have great experience and character, but if they can’t fit in with the culture and dynamics of the company, issues can arise quickly. "The fact is, if someone isn't a good cultural fit, it can cause a lot of problems," he said.

Abuse 'Em - and Lose 'Em

Just as importantly, companies should work to keep top talent — or risk the consequences demonstrated in Game of Thrones by the abuse of Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is smart, empathetic, hardworking and, sadly, unappreciated. In the end, his violent departure from his family accelerates its fall from power and status.

"While you should ensure all your employees are happy, make sure you pay extra attention to star employees," Barreiro noted. 

One final thought: Be extra careful if that star employee happens to own a dragon.

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