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The GROW Coaching Model

Table, chairs, blue sky

The Business Coaching series is now available to download as a free ebook Creative Management for Creative Teams.

Following on from Key Coaching Skills in the Introduction to Business Coaching series is the GROW model. Devised by Sir John Whitmore and described in his book Coaching For Performance, it is probably the most common coaching model used in business, at least in the UK. It offers a way of structuring coaching sessions to facilitate a balanced discussion:

  • GOAL – defining what you want to achieve
  • REALITY – exploring the current situation, relevant history and future trends
  • OPTIONS – coming up with new ideas for reaching the goal
  • WHAT/WHO/WHEN – deciding on a concrete plan of action

In practice, since most coaching is driven by questions, this means that different types of question are used at each stage:

  • GOAL – questions to define the goal as clearly as possible and also to evoke an emotional response
    [What do you want to achieve? What will be different when you achieve it? What’s important about this for you?]
  • REALITY – questions to elicit specific details of the situation and context
    [What is happening now? Who is involved? What is their outcome? What is likely to happen in future?]
  • OPTIONS – open-ended questions to facilitate creative thinking
    [What could you do? What ideas can you bring in from past successes? What haven’t you tried yet?]
  • WHAT – focused questions to get an agreement to specific actions and criteria for success
    [What will you do? When will you do it? Who do you need to involve? When should you see results?]

Used judiciously, the GROW model offers an excellent framework for structuring a coaching session. It is particularly useful for beginners, helping them to see the wood for the trees and keep the session on track. However, Whitmore is at pains to emphasise that models and structures are not the heart of coaching:

GROW, without the context of AWARENESS and RESPONSIBILITY, and the skill of questioning to generate them, has little value.

I prefer to think of the GROW model as a compass for orientation rather than a rigid sequence of steps to be followed. I don’t think I’ve ever taken part in a coaching session that began with Goals, then progressed smoothly through an analysis of Reality, then brainstormed Options before settling on the What?/When?/Who? and How? of an action plan.

Coaching can begin at any of the four stages of the GROW model. A coachee might begin by telling you about something she wants to achieve (Goal), a current problem (Reality), a new idea for improving things (Options) or by outlining an action plan (What). As a coach, it’s usually a good idea to follow the coachee’s lead initially by asking a few questions to elicit more detail, then move onto the other steps.

Personally, I always start a coaching conversation by asking a goal-focused question (e.g. “So what do you want to achieve?”) as a way of setting the tone for the discussion. Sometimes the coachee replies with a description of a problem (Reality) which is fine – I’ll listen, probe for a few details then as soon as possible return to Goals, to keep the conversation focused.

On the other hand, if someone comes to me full of ideas and enthusiasm (Goals, Options), I’ll do my best to help them maintain this while taking account of hard facts (Reality) and getting a commitment to specific action (What). As so often with coaching, the important principle is balance.

Next in this series – Formal and Informal Coaching.


  1. melanie molloy says:

    hi im having to research the strengths an weaknesses of the grow model an iv lookd everywhere for answers but cant find any.would you be able to poin me in right direction.also do you know of any coaching support groups in northwest area that i could join.i am a trainee lifecoach.i would really apreciate your help thankyou

  2. Hi Melanie,

    I’m afraid I’ve not come across any memorable discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of the GROW model — most of the coaching books seem to focus on explaining what it is and how to use it rather than critiquing it.

    Personally, I’d suggest that it’s a good model and susceptible to the same weaknesses as any other model — i.e. we should take it as a guiding framework but not get too attached to it. John Whitmore himself stresses “that GROW, without the context of AWARENESS and RESPONSIBILITY and the skill of questioning to generate them, has little value”.

    I’m afraid I don’t know of any coaching support groups in the North West. All the best with your coaching journey.

  3. Annette Welman says:

    Why does coaching involves discussing options rather than giving advise in the GROW model. Do you agree/disagree with this

  4. Hi Annette,

    One of the fundamental principles of coaching is that it’s about facilitating creativity and independent thinking in the coachee. The coach is there to facilitate but if she starts giving advice then it’s all about her creativity – not that of the coachee.

    This reduces the opportunity for the coachee to come up with his own solutions. Not only that, it can be demotivating, since there are few things as empowering and exciting as the opportunity to dream up your own solutions and put them into action.

    So I’d have to say I do agree with this approach. One exception I would make would be in a situation where the coachee simply didn’t know enough to come up with an effective solution. In those cases, a coach can be effective if she switches into ‘educating mode’ — explaining the necessary information or pointing the coachee to learning resources.

    Strictly speaking, this isn’t coaching, and some coaches would argue that it’s not a coach’s place to take on this educational role — but I’m quite happy to do it for a client, as long as we realise that will be switching back to coaching mode as soon as he or she has enough knowledge to make some informed decisions.

  5. In response to Melanie’s second question, have you tried looking at http://www.meetup.com? There are 3 groups under the serach term Lifestyle Coaching within 25 miles of Blackburn, obviously it all depends where in the North West you are. Hope this helps.

  6. Thanks Paul, great suggestion.

  7. Also in response to Melanie’s question – you can also try the Cumbria Coaching Network http://www.cumbriacoaching.net/ Meets regularly with very active and experienced members. As for weaknesses of the GROW I agree with Mark in that GROW is a guide for coaches to use flexibly and not follow rigidly. The only weakness is in the user not the model.

  8. Thanks Jon, I’ve forwarded the link to Melanie…

  9. Patricia Walsh says:

    I have recently taken a course on Coaching and the GROW model
    is quite effective in term sof finding our own solutions according to a plan of action. Very good and helpful comments.

  10. Please inform me of future GROW training courses/workshops in London for Autumn 2011.

  11. Elliot Moreland says:

    Hi Mark,

    I would love to use that quote from Whitmore in a report I am writing; what publication is it from?


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