Are you playing 'Game of Cubicles'?

Apr 22 2014 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Maybe I've been geeking out too much on "Game of Thrones". Seriously, binge-watching Season 3 in a desperate attempt to catch up has impacted my brain. I found myself the other day noticing the similarities between corporate politics and the HBO series. I even came up with a name for it. So how well do you play the "Game of Cubicles"?

As the leader of a remote team, how often have you found yourself feeling like one of the minor Lords or Dukes of Westeros?

  • All the action is at home office (King's Landing) and you don't much like what you're hearing. Yet you feel you can't do anything about it
  • News comes only occasionally, with short notes tied to ravens (okay, email is a LITTLE better, but not much)
  • People have their own career agendas, which may or may not be known to you
  • The threats are coming from far away, and you can't see them with your own eyes. You rely on the information you get which may or may not be accurate (White Walkers; Targaryens with dragons; your marketing department's latest lame social media strategy…)

Of course, this is all a matter of perspective. There is far more sex and violence on the series than in the workplace. Yes, there are incidents like The Red Office Party, which is still whispered of to new HR people in hushed, shaking tones. The annual sales meeting (in a good year) resembles a Dothraki victory feast but what happens in The Eyrie stays in The Eyrie, am I right?

The point is, as a minor lordling (or ladyling) out in the provinces it can be tough to maintain good working relationships, not get distracted from the task at hand, and avoid being caught up in intrigue you only partially understand.

So what's a leader to do? Here are some of the ways to wisely play the Game and keep your head while all about you are losing theirs.

  • Winter is coming: be aware of threats both internal and external. There's a tendency to "keep our heads down and just do our jobs". As either Gandhi , or Tywin Lannister, said, "when elephants fight the grass suffers". Know what's really going on.
  • Know the ambitions and professional goals of your team. If you don't help them land the next job they want, the next job they get could be yours. This isn't just unenlightened self-interest on your part. One of the biggest reasons for disengagement of remote workers is a clear lack of career path.
  • Get to know your people, give them freedom, but hold them accountable. Danys Targaryen knows that leading free, motivated people is far more successful than leading slaves. Of course she also has a private eunuch army and three dragons at her disposal. There's a lesson there.
  • Keep aligned with the good of the Realm, not individuals. Keep the big picture in mind. It's easy to rely on your immediate manager rather than knowing the context for the work you do. If you don't know the mission or context for your work, you'd better find out before you realize your project has been given the axe or your budget has been fed to the Direwolves.
  • Strange alliances work. Whether it's Arya and The Hound or the IT center in Dallas and the folks in Bangalore, working together closely to overcome problems can create long and lasting alliances. Don't dismiss the opportunity to meet and work with new people.
  • Don't accept wedding invitations. Just don't.

Playing the Game of Cubicles can become a dangerous obsession, but ignoring its existence is the surest way to unpleasant surprises.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.