Are Your Workplace Politics Starting to Look Like Game of Thrones?

Caution: Spoilers

I am someone who has spent at least an hour of my free time scouring the internet for an affordable, life size iron throne. I do not have the space in my house for a giant iron chair made of weapons. Nor does this fit my decorating scheme. However, the symbol of the Iron Throne appeals to my inner megalomaniac. I want to feel powerful, goddamnit.

After finding an iron throne at ⅓ the size for nearly $2000 I ended my search. Maybe having a giant hunk of iron in my living room (where my dogs could easily stab their eyes on the protruding swords) was not the best way to spend $2000. Why did I even think having a chair from one of my favorite TV shows would make me feel powerful? Moreover, why was I so power hungry?

Because I was working in a toxically political environment.

I didn’t realize at the time, but my workplace was bringing out the worst in me. I was becoming a mad queen when I never even wanted to play the game. Every fan knows that “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” But how do you even know if you are playing the game?

Politics Are Inescapable

Answer: You are playing the game. Weather you know it or not. Does your company have any of the following:

  • Hierarchy
  • People

Yup! You have workplace politics. Humans are psychologically driven to politics. Even if you don’t have a traditional leader, you absolutely have at least on person who the others look to for direction. That is because it is in our nature to form hierarchies, formal and otherwise.

Humans form groups. It’s what we did when we were hunters and gathers and it’s what we do now. In any group, members will either identify a leader or one will emerge over time. Think Jon Snow. He just wanted to be a part of the Knight’s Watch. He had no desire to lead, but other members of the Knight’s Watch looked to him for guidance. Their perspective of him made him become their leader.

People Want To Get Ahead

Not everyone wanted Jon Snow to be their leader. He had a soft spot for Wildlings and that just DID NOT SIT for Alliser Thorne who went on to lead a mutiny against Snow. Sure Thorne cooked up a bunch of Wildling race hate to justify his murderous ways, but the heart of his motive was to become the Lord Commander.

The desire to get ahead is the crux of almost every character in Game of Thrones. Sure you have a few characters trying to just live their lives (looking at you Arya, Sam, Gilly, Sandor, etc.). But, then you have characters like Cersei Lannister willing to squelch any obstacle in her pursuit of power.

That’s because people want to get ahead. Some people are programmed to be ambitious. The Cersei Lannister’s of the world whose ambition becomes a fight for power at any cost, these are the ones who can turn your already political organization into a toxic work environment. But, how do you spot a Cersei in your midst? He or she will engage in one or more of these common behaviors:

  • Taking credit for work that is not theirs
  • Not giving credit where it is due
  • Consuming leader’s attention
  • Withholding information from others or hoarding knowledge
  • Quick to cast blame on others

Even if this behavior is discouraged in your workplace, the politically charged associate may still default to this toxic state. That is because….

Your Processes (Or Lack Thereof) Encourage Political Behavior

A few years ago I was working in Human Resources at a large Fortune 500 company. My role was to help leadership reorganize their department so that each area of the business was prepared to handle hyper growth without hyper hiring. One of the most common themes within each department’s reorganization project was the increase in politics.

Similarly, Robert Baratheon’s usurpation of the Mad King’s throne launched a powder keg of politics. After centuries of Targaryen’s ruling Westeros, suddenly it was possible for another family to take over. If a Baratheon could have the throne, then why not a Lannister? Why not a stark? Yeah yeah the Mad King was gonna burn everybody to a crisp and should NOT be in a position of power. But once the gate for mutiny is open, then prepare for a flood.

During a reorganization project, people knew that it would open the door for promotions, demotions, and lateral moves, also creating a powder keg of politics. When associate’s caught wind that their department was being reorganized, suddenly there was a complete breakdown of process. People would grasp at jobs they thought would be created and no longer focus on their current role. Other associates would cling to their current role so hard that they became a block in the process. Process breakdowns fueled frustration and conflict resulting in a toxic political environment.


Even if the Mad King didn’t go mad. There would always be politics in Westeros because:

  • Politics are inescapable
  • People want to get ahead
  • Processes may be encouraging political behavior

No matter what, the game of thrones is happening in our workplace. The trick is knowing if the game is really a toxic work environment. Is your organization full of Cersei Lannisters stopping at nothing to get ahead? Or are there more Jon Snows, leading the Knight’s Watch? Let us know in the comments!


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