Company infighting Games of Thrones style #Leadership

All pictures copyright HBO

I hear a lot of friends describing their workplaces like “Game of Thrones”. The TV series has become the “by word” for when things go wrong at the top of an organisation. Most of the time staff use it as a description to describe the political nature of the organisation. They use the term “who is going to take the iron throne” to describe when two departments disagree or two leaders of those departments are at loggerheads.

Why do senior leaders disagree?

Firstly if you lead part of the organisation you’re paid to bring your experience and knowledge to help the organisation move forward. Each person brings their own unique perspective and they want to prove they can be successful at their role.

Proving yourself to be successful is normally down to being able to achieve the tasks or objectives you are given. This more than likely is tied to some monetary award with the package they awarded when they started the role.

No Alignment

If you haven’t got aligned objectives or an aligned road map then this may lead to disagreement and tension within the senior leadership team. It could also lead to senior leaders pushing their teams in the wrong direction. For example department A needs to complete objective 1 within Q4 while Department B needs to achieve objective 2 and 4 however both teams need each other to complete objective 1,2 and 4.

A metaphor for non aligned objectives is Daenerys and Cersei. They should be aligned to tackle the white walkers and this should be there number one objective. However both are worried about objective 2 which is who is going to take the iron throne and be Queen of the kingdoms and objective 4 who is supporting who.

Meeting alignment in the room. Disagreement outside of the room

One of the worst types of non alignment is when you agree with everything in the room and then you go around talking about why the decision was wrong outside of the room. Take for example Petyr Baelish the master of spin doctors. The person who went around speaking to everyone else outside of the room trying to change their minds so he could achieve his own objectives.

How to build alignment — Agree on a process to select projects

There are many different ways to agree on which project should be selected first. Some examples are:

  1. Eisenhower Matrix
  2. Project prioritisation matrix
  3. Risk Assessment Scheduling — Which works in project scheduling but could work equally well in determining which project needs to go first.
  4. The Hierarchy of Purpose

But does alignment mean there is no debate?

The hallmark of a truly aligned leadership team is its ability to disagree and debate in a healthy way. Not only does this encourage the best thinking, but it also ensures that the real issues are not shoved under the table and are discussed and dealt with in the best possible manner.

Healthy debate enables a team to get everything out in the open and put on the table all the views and thoughts around which project should be worked on and why. David Michels in his article for Forbes magazine argues that unless you you have a good disagreement and a productive way such as a prioritisation matrix to resolve the debate then you are truly not aligned. This requires constant effort to make sure all team members are aligned to the common goal.

The workers of an organisation need to see alignment, they need to understand purpose, priorities, projects, who is going to work on them, scope cost, and time. There needs to be constructive debate but not something that leads to a game of throne scenario in an organisation.


David Shrimpton has given conference talks and written articles on Agile and Lean and loves helping individuals through coaching. Currently he is the founder and Company Director for DPJS Enterprises.

If you’d like me to talk at your company or conference please feel free to contact me on Linkedin.