Data Paradigm Shift #1: Elevate Data Governance by Choosing People for the Altitude of the Work

iBusiness Group; Elevate Data Governance based on the Altitude of Work; Working Genius
  • July 31, 2023


In today's data-driven world, it is imperative organizations do the right things with data for data to be successful. This requires organizations to make a number of significant paradigm shifts that we will discuss in a series of articles. The first paradigm shift is to elevate data governance work and the data governance team by choosing people based on the altitude of the work and not their job title.

Doing the right things with data covers a wide range of strategic and tactical capabilities including data prioritization, data management, data quality, data timeliness, data privacy, security, and compliance, data modeling, data cataloging, data execution, and more. The group that is typically charged with setting this direction, educating the organization, and ensuring compliance is the data governance team. However, since "governance" has a bad connotation in many organizations, I prefer to call this "data activation" so we will use that term for this article.

Creating a successful data activation team and capability is critical for the success of data, the data team, IT, IT projects, and ultimately the business. However, assembling the right team for data activation can be challenging as most organizations do not have people experienced in data in general, much less data activation, enablement, or governance. Traditional selection methods based on job title, who is most vocal, or who is friends with the Chief Data Officer, will likely result in yet another failure or false start for data.

To avoid another data failure, let's consider Patrick Lencioni's The Working Genius as our guide and explore the concept of "the altitude of the work" to prioritize talent and form a robust data activation function.

The idea behind The Working Genius is that there are six required activities for any kind of team-based work, and if even one of them is lacking, failure and frustration become much more likely. The six types of Working Genius, from highest altitude of work to lowest are:

  • Wonder: People who ask "what if?" questions, ponder the possibility of greater potential, raise a red flag, or speculate about the state of things.
  • Invention: Individuals who answer those big questions by creating solutions, coming up with a plan, proposing a new idea, or devising a novel approach.
  • Discernment: Those who can objectively evaluate the ideas coming out of Invention by assessing the proposal, providing feedback, or tweaking the approach.
  • Galvanizing: People who inspire and rally the team around the approved solution, enlisting them to help implement it, or inspire them to embrace it.
  • Enablement: Individuals who answer the Galvanizer's call by organizing resources, creating an environment where everyone can perform at their best, and agree to do what is needed to get the solution off the ground.
  • Tenacity: People who persevere to complete the project, finish the program, and push through obstacles to ensure that the work is done to specification.

iBusiness Group. Altitude of Work. The Working Genius.

Most of the work the data activation team is accountable for -- assuming data activation is defined correctly and is empowered accordingly -- falls into the working geniuses of:

  • Discernment evaluates requested data work, refines proposed solutions, and recommends work for approval and implementation. This genius is critical for effective data governance.
  • Galvanizing rallies people for action by initiating and socializing the data roadmap, data literacy, and more to get the organization to work towards a common purpose. They create enthusiasm and commitment among team members. This genius is critical for effective data activation.
  • Enablement provides support, financial resources, and human capital to the approved work.  They empower the team to achieve its objectives. This genius is critical for effective data execution.


The other geniuses are also critical but I would argue they largely fall to your business champions (Wonder), your data product owners, enterprise architects, and data architects (Invention), and your data engineering team (Tenacity). It is the middle altitudes of work of Discernment, Galvanizing, and Enablement, that are most often overlooked and missing in organizations trying to do data. The middle altitudes are collectively called "Activation" and I believe that aptly describes where most data initiatives fall down.

Using this model, then, your data activation team should largely be comprised of data owners with Working Geniuses of Discernment and/or Galvanizing. To round out your ideal data activation team, look to add the following individuals:

  • 1 or 2 business champions with Wonder as one of their two Working Geniuses
  • Your principal enterprise architect with Invention as a Working Genius
  • Your principal data architect with Discernment as a Working Genius, ideally coupled with Invention to work frictionless with the business architect
  • A data evangelist with Galvanizing as their Working Genius; ideally this would be the second working genius of your business champion
  • Your data execution team lead, who should have Enablement and Tenacity as his/her two Working Geniuses.

Beyond the working geniuses, you can look for diverse perspectives in terms of various departments, backgrounds, and skill sets to bring a wealth of experience to the table. This will break down departmental silos and allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the organization's data needs and ensure that data activation decisions benefit the organization as a whole.

You may not be able to achieve the ideal team presented here, however, by prioritizing people's working genius over their title, you are more likely to identify a data activation team that fits the altitude of the work. This will foster a culture of collaboration, productivity, and progress, rather than the culture of frustration many companies experience today with data. This is a significant paradigm shift but one that will pay huge dividends if done right.

As a certified facilitator of The Working Genius, we would love an opportunity to help you activate data for your organization by getting the right people in the right seats doing the right work at the right time. With the Working Genius Team Map, we can identify who are those right people to move your data forward, shift from frustration to progress, and make data successful for your customers and business stakeholders.

Inquire about The Working Genius Team Map today at


The Intelligent Business Blog

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