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The GROW Coaching Model Explained

The GROW Coaching Model Explained

Discover the power of the GROW coaching model. Simple and flexible, it’s what you need to craft an effective results-oriented coaching session for your clients.


Are you looking for a tool to keep your clients focused during sessions? Do you need a methodology to help unearth valuable insights and lay the foundation for concrete action? Do you want your clients to walk away from coaching sessions with a powerful sense of purpose to propel them toward their goals?

Then you need to incorporate a coaching session structure into your sessions, and one of the most powerful frameworks is the GROW coaching model.

The GROW coaching model is powerful because it’s simple to use, flexible in design, and results-oriented.

Why you need a coaching model

Anytime we plan a coaching session to deliver concrete results, we should use a framework for the session to focus on the goals we set with our clients. Without it, we could miss key details preventing our clients from reaching their objective or, worse, have the entire appointment devolve into nothing more than a friendly chat.

Adding structure to our sessions keeps our clients and us on track, and helps identify objectives for our time together, which leads to solid action plans for our clients to work on. It’ll also help our clients relax and keep them from feeling overwhelmed because they know what to expect. They’ll be in the right frame of mind to do some solid work during our sessions, producing tangible results that’ll leave them with a valuable feeling of accomplishment. 

What is the GROW model for coaching?

Sir John Whitmore is the man who developed the GROW coaching model in the 1980s. Together with Graham Alexander and Alan Fine, they created a simple, results-oriented coaching tool effective in individual and group settings. It’s a flexible framework that works across cultures and disciplines and forms the backbone of many organizations to guide executive teams and improve employee performance.

The GROW model helps coaches guide their clients to find solutions to challenges while developing a deeper understanding of their circumstances. They’ll learn to identify and explore all available options before developing their action plan. 

This process is invaluable to our clients’ personal development because it boosts confidence and identifies what motivates them.

So how does it work?

The GROW model’s acronym identifies the four simple steps we need to structure effective coaching sessions:

G - Goal: Determine clients’ objective for the session and their purpose for seeking coaching services. What do they want to achieve?

R - Reality: Take stock of clients’ current situation and what’s working for and against them. Set clear expectations and identify obstacles.

O - Options: Examine all potential courses of action to help clients map the best way forward. This will aid our coaching process and help us identify what coaching styles work best for our clients.

W - Will: Help clients commit to action plans and determine how they’ll be held accountable throughout the coaching process.

An example of the GROW coaching model could be as simple as taking a road trip. The first step is to decide on a destination (GOAL). Then we’d prepare for our vacation by ensuring we have luggage, time off, a map, and enough gas in the car (REALITY) and select a route using back roads, city streets, the highway, or a combination (OPTIONS). And finally, we have to jump in the car and drive to our destination or goal (WILL). 

This analogy makes it easy to picture how to implement the GROW model and its steps in our coaching session. Remember, our clients also benefit from analogies and different styles of communication. So the next time we explain the GROW method, we should use this example to help our clients easily understand this coaching model.
Let’s unpack each step of the GROW model and learn how they work together.

G - Goal

The first step of the GROW coaching framework is goal setting. Helping our clients decide on a goal allows us to focus our work together on achieving our clients’ objectives and structure sessions accordingly. It lets us manage expectations and start sessions on the right foot. Once we’ve determined the goal, we’ll refocus our clients’ attention on the task at hand if needed.

Ideally, we’ll settle on a goal within the SMART framework. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. An example would be earning a pilot’s license by completing the required training courses over two years. It’s specific (a pilot’s license), measurable (complete a number of classes), and realistically attainable within the stated time frame. 

We must use our coaching skills and ask the right questions to help our clients clarify their objectives. It should be inspiring and challenging to generate a sense of motivation.

GROW coaching model questions to establish goals

  1. What topic would disappoint you if we didn’t talk about it today?
  2. What could we achieve in this session that would merit a fist pump? 
  3. What takeaway from this session would help you the most right now?
  4. What specific outcome would you like to see from today’s session?
  5. If we were to pick one item to work on today, what would really put a smile on your face at the end of the session?

BONUS TIP: Our coaching approach needs to remain flexible throughout our session. Sometimes goals evolve as you work through the framework. Don’t be afraid to circle back to the first step to gain clarity.

R - Reality

The R stage of the GROW model helps our clients understand their current reality. As coaches, we need to help our clients describe their situations and respond with key insights. This is where we’ll ask guiding questions, challenge their perceptions, explore feelings, and dig into their intuition. Through this process, we’ll better understand our clients’ values, beliefs, priorities, and how they’ll impact achieving their goals. 

Suppose one of our clients wants to become a project manager, have them assess their current work situation. Do they have a manager willing to act as a mentor, or do they already perform project management duties they could use to log the required hours to meet the certification requirements? These are all stepping stones our client may not be actively aware of. With guidance, they could discover their objective isn’t as far away as they thought.

GROW coaching model questions to define reality

  1. What’s happening in your life?
  2. Who do you need to be to accomplish this goal?
  3. Are any conflicts or other priorities holding you back? What are you avoiding?
  4. What would happen if you did nothing at all?
  5. What qualities or resources can you access to help you reach your goal?

BONUS TIP: The Reality stage is about raising self-awareness within our clients, so taking our time is essential. Help clients move beyond the obvious answers to address underlying issues. That’s where we’ll have our AHA moment that’ll allow our clients to identify an action with a significant impact during the Options and Will sections of our coaching conversation.


O - Options

The Options section is where the fun begins. We’ll work together with our clients taking the lead to brainstorm as many potential means of attaining their objectives as possible. Nothing is off the table. This stage is all about identifying what our clients are willing to do within their current reality to achieve their desired outcomes. We’re mentoring clients through problem-solving, not making decisions for them. We’ll help them examine each and every option, but in the end, it’s up to our clients to decide on the best path forward.

One way to help clients access their options is to sit down with them and have a 15-minute brainstorming session. Use free association techniques to guide clients to generate ideas to reach their objectives. If one of our clients wants to improve their health and lifestyle, ideas including eating more healthy snacks, exercising, and eliminating diets could arise. Once the 15 minutes are up, take a breather, circle back, and critically evaluate each solution to see if and how clients could adopt them. Then our clients can choose the best approach.

GROW coaching model questions to determine options

  1. Suppose you couldn’t fail; what wouldn’t you be afraid to do?
  2. What would you choose to do if you didn’t have to live with the consequences?
  3. Imagine you have all the information you need to make a decision. What would your next step be?
  4. What action would you take if you weren’t worried about other people’s opinions?
  5. Money isn’t an object anymore. What would you be willing to do?
  6. BONUS QUESTION: What else could you do? Good. Now, what else? (Keep repeating the question and encourage the client for every new option they uncover.)

BONUS TIP: The more imaginative our coaching questions, the better the options will be. Take time and let clients relax into the process. We’ll find breakthroughs usually happen near the end of this phase. If they’re struggling, have clients focus on what’s possible, not probable, or circle back to the Reality stage. It’s possible we haven’t fully explored all the factors affecting our clients.

W - Will

Remember, the purpose of coaching is to facilitate change for our clients. After determining a path forward, our clients need to commit to completing at least one action step per session. That’s where the Will phase of the GROW model comes in. It helps wrap up our sessions, returning our clients to their personal lives motivated and committed to action. Ensure the tasks clients choose to accomplish are realistic and will help them achieve their goals. 

Nothing saps motivation like the stress of competing priorities — question whether they’re up to the task, even if it stretches their capacity. If not, simplify the action plan to make it easier on them. Remember, any forward movement is progress, no matter how small. 

If we’re looking for ways to reinforce will in our clients, we can ask them to come up with three actions they can do between sessions and report back the next time you meet. Reviewing these tasks helps develop a sense of accountability, identifies roadblocks, and kicks off our next session. We should ask our clients how they’ll feel if they don’t accomplish their weekly tasks and develop methods to hold them accountable. If our client wants to improve their relationships, we can have them assess what would happen if they don’t take meaningful steps to improve their communication skills and emotional intelligence. How passionate are they about achieving their goals, and what do they think will happen if they don’t? 

GROW coaching model questions to strengthen will

  1. What’s the first step you can take that’ll lead to you accomplishing your goals?
  2. And what actions do YOU want to take?
  3. How will you stay motivated to reach your goals when things get tough?
  4. What could unintentionally distract you from reaching your goals?
  5. How would you like me to hold you accountable for your actions?

BONUS TIP: At the end of the session, ask clients what their biggest win was for the day. This reinforces the value of the work we do together and helps us learn more about what’s important to our clients.

Additional GROW model tips

If our clients don’t know what they want from coaching sessions, we can introduce a phase at the beginning of the GROW structure to help them select a high-level topic for our session. Once that’s done, we’ll choose a goal and follow the rest of the GROW model. 

GROW coaching model questions to select a topic

  1. How are you?
  2. What’s been working for you lately? 
  3. What do you need the most from our session today?

If using a coaching model is a new skill, why not practice the GROW model on yourself? Using the model to meet challenges and get you ‘unstuck’ in your life will help you better understand how it’ll help your clients. Take the time to write out the questions that work for you and use them in your first session with a new client or test them out on clients you’ve developed a strong coaching relationship.

Whether you’re a life or performance coach (or anything between), your clients will benefit from the GROW model. You’ll help them set Goals, evaluate their Reality, determine their best Options, and develop the Will to help them reach their objectives. Not only will they benefit from well-structured coaching sessions, but you’ll never have to worry about how to organize yourself. You’ll be able to rely on a tried and true framework to plan your appointments and stay focused on what you do best: coaching.

Now that you’re familiar with the GROW model and how to streamline your sessions, do you want to streamline all aspects of your business, including communicating with your clients? Need support to manage your appointments and scheduling tasks? Try Practice to help you manage your day-to-day administrative tasks, giving you more time to do the work you love.

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