University of Manchester, Faculty of Humanities


With around 21000 students, 1350 academic staff, 650 professional services staff and £350 million of annual income, the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Manchester aspires to be one of the most successful Humanities faculties in the world.

The Challenge

The Director of Faculty Operations wanted to build and develop a high-performing Professional Services (PS) Leadership Team which impacted positively on the wider faculty PS team. The agreement of clear goals for the team aligned to faculty and organisational priorities, with each person truly understanding their role and their contribution was crucial. The aim was to build energy and enthusiasm with an individual and collective growth mindset and a coaching culture. The importance of ambition, success, celebration and collaboration was also highlighted.

The Approach

Agar worked in partnership with the Director of Faculty Operation to design and deliver a leadership development programme to meet the desired outcomes. The initial planned provision was as follows:

Insights Discovery underpinned the programme as a foundation to enhance self-awareness (‘self-awareness is the strongest predictor of leadership success’, Green Peak Partners – research conducted by Cornell University, 2010). This framework has also been used as a lens to consider resilience, change and team effectiveness. From the beginning, we wanted this to be a dynamic programme that responded to external and internal factors. An early external factor was the requirement to minimise face-to-face gatherings as a result of the on-going impact of Covid-19; the first session – in January 2022 – was, therefore, virtual. Since that time, the approach and content has evolved (including offering the option of the Insights 360 tool) and the programme is being extended into a third academic year. Additional leadership development topics have included:

• Positive leadership
• Defining our Team Leadership Brand
• Wellbeing
• Technical and Adaptive Leadership

We have called upon the breadth of the Agar team to use facilitators who are specialists in their field and sector to enhance the offering, whilst retaining a cohesive thread. Throughout, we have adopted a partnership approach, responding to feedback and suggestions to offer a truly tailored provision.

Several members of the Professional Services Leadership Team have chosen to cascade a similar offering to their own leadership teams. Agar was also delighted to be asked to facilitate 3 sessions at the 2023 annual Faculty of Humanities Leadership conference for over 100 academic and professional services senior leaders When the Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty emailed to thank us, he noted that the faculty had ‘benefited from the knowledge and insight of Agar colleagues for some time’; he described the conference as stimulating and thought-provoking with colleagues saying how much they had enjoyed the sessions which ‘clearly (had) given them much to think about’. The Faculty Leadership Team itself has now embarked upon its own ‘Insights journey’.

The two most common words from participants to describe the 22/23 provision are ‘collaborative’ and ‘constructive’. Other descriptors include: challenging, stretching, informative, insightful, fascinating, rewarding and exciting.

The Impact

  • A cohesive and psychologically safe team
  • An inclusive and respectful climate
  • Positive role-modelling
  • Greater self-awareness and understanding of others with a ‘shared language of colour’
  • Clarity regarding the leadership brand: ‘An inclusive and compassionate leadership team, enabling collaboration and expertise to achieve our goals and live our values in a purposeful, progressive and authentic way.’

What They Say

“I have worked with Dee and Agar for over a decade in a variety of roles – and it is always a pleasure whilst delivering meaningful, lasting change on my team. This approach to leadership development has been a huge success, stretching an already high-performing team, shifting our culture at pace and fully meeting my goals for the programme. There has been consistently positive feedback from the team about the impact on both their individual leadership practice as well as their wider team. All the facilitators who have contributed to the programme have been experts in their field – they have been engaging, emotionally intelligent and have taken the time and care to really understand us a team and our goals.”

Hannah Rundle, Director of Faculty Operations

University of Manchester

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