High levels of student satisfaction


With around 30000 students and 5500 staff, the University of Exeter combines teaching excellence and high levels of student satisfaction with world class research. External Engagement and Global co-locates the teams that enhance the University’s reputation, help to build effective stakeholder relationships and attract and develop students with the potential to excel. The division focuses on the vision to become a truly global institution by extending the University’s presence, reach and impact around the world.

External Engagement and Global comprises of the following elements:

  • Strategic marketing
  • Student access, recruitment and admissions
  • International student recruitment
  • Communications
  • Global advancement, global partnerships and global opportunities

The Challenge

Following a restructure, the newly-appointed Director of External Engagement and Global asked Agar to facilitate an away day for the division (which has over 300 staff) to truly engage people. The focus was on cross-team working and collaboration – finding a way of connecting with everyone and looking at how each team fits into the structure. She wanted the event to provide people with the opportunity to be heard, to understand and appreciate each other and to trust that that the day would make a positive difference; she also wanted there to be plenty of energy.

The Approach

Agar worked in partnership with the Director of External Engagement and Global and members of her senior team to design and deliver an event which met the desired outcomes and was feasible with an audience of over 200 people.

Following on from inputs on the 2030 strategy and internationalisation and diversification the programme was as follows:

  • Insightful communication and collaboration – exploring individual preferences and team ways of working
  • What makes you feel ‘mad, sad and glad’ at work – a structured way of sharing views, identifying themes and prioritising recommendations for action

The decision was made to use Insights Explore®, a digital tool that’s accessible on any device. Participants were invited to complete a short evaluator to create a simplified version of the global personality profile, Insights Discovery. The Insights Explore profile provides information about behavioural preferences, and what these mean for each person and their interaction with others. This provided a framework for collegiate collaboration and working to strengths. With over 240 in the room, we also used a ‘speed chatting’ activity to enable people to connect with colleagues they hadn’t previously met; this was also a great way to create energy.

Building on the foundation of clarity in relation to the 2030 strategy and a greater self-awareness and connectedness, teams then utilised the ‘mad, sad, glad’ framework to prioritise ways forward. Finally, each person committed to something that they would do differently as individual as a result of the day. The video demonstrates the energy in the room at this point. Here is just a selection of some of the pledges:

  • Appreciate different perspectives more.
  • Utilise all the expertise across the Division.
  • Invite senior team to ‘walk the floor’.
  • Celebrate success and say thank you.
  • Make time to see things from other’s perspectives.
  • Step out of the comfort zone and embrace.
  • More EEG cross-dept get togethers such as coffee drop ins & networking opportunities.
  • Be more positive and praise others more.
  • Celebrate success and give more recognition.
  • Be more aware of different approaches to tasks.
  • More collaboration in a collegiate way.
  • No pigeonholing – allow for nuance.
  • Make more effort to talk to people about what they’re working on.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for answers in other departments.

A comprehensive set of notes was produced capturing outputs from the day and then the Agar team met again with the director and her senior team to agree ways forward. Moving forward on recommendations from team members has been prioritised, along with ways to keep the learning and the energy ‘alive’ (Agar has provided resources and expertise in relation to this). We are now planning for a follow-up directorate-wide event.

The whole event was about engaging staff personally, within teams and across the directorate to work collaboratively to shared goals.

The Impact

  • Clarity around each person and team’s contribution to divisional and institutional goals;
  • Engaged staff who feel listened to and energised;
  • Confidence that connectedness and development will continue to be prioritised and invested in;
  • Greater self-awareness and understanding of others with a ‘shared language of colour’;
  • A clear plan of action.

What They Say

“We thoroughly enjoyed worked with Dee and the team at Agar to deliver an event for our staff that was full of energy and passion, which truly engaged individuals and teams to develop cross-team working and collaboration. Our brief to Agar was to build on our newly established strategy and explore how we could continue to develop our collaborative approach to meet our objectives and to have fun while doing so. We wanted to explore the characteristics of our teams and how we could harness these to build on our potential to deliver our strategy. We used the Insights Explore digital tool to help us to do this and, also through the work of the Agar team, we were able to build on this using various exercises throughout the day. Our post-event evaluation showed a high rate of satisfaction from our staff and this was in no small part thanks to Dee and the Agar staff for their input, energy and insight.”

Alicia O’Grady, Executive Divisional Director of External Engagement and Global

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