Structuring coaching sessions with GROW – Part 1: Introduction to the GROW Model & Goal Setting

Last time we looked at the reasons to contract in coaching – one of the five basic skills it’s necessary for any coach to master. This time I’m turning to another skill on that wishlist. The GROW Model – that easy-to-remember, simple, and perennially popular mechanism for structuring coaching sessions.

GROWDon’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that there are no other ways of structuring sessions. There are. Many. Some are simple whilst others are much more complicated. However, I’m highlighting the GROW Model here because of its almost universal acceptance and serviceability. It’s stood the test of time, been pulled around and discussed widely, and become a coaching staple used because of its effectiveness by a whole variety of coaches, including the most experienced.

Why is it important to have some kind of recognisable approach to structuring coaching sessions?

Well, it’s the duty of a coach to ensure a coachee’s process of self-discovery is as wide-ranging as necessary, has direction, and is capable of crystallising seeds of insight or points for action that will help move the coachee forward. That process of self-discovery needs to touch a number of bases, and it also needs to encourage the coachee to dig deep into her or his own psychology and experience to find the most appropriate pathway.

As a tool to structure individual sessions as well as a coaching intervention as a whole, the GROW Model is as good as any. And it lends itself to supporting and upgrading the standard of the coaching being offered – an important aspect of safeguarding the interests of the coach as well as the coachee.

Here we’ll be looking in more depth at what the GROW Model is, as well as aspects of how it can be put into action.

What is the GROW Model?

The GROW Model is a blueprint for structuring coaching sessions. Developed in the 1980s through the work of Graham Alexander and John Whitmore towards improving performance and unlocking potential in the workplace, it’s simple to remember and easy to keep at the back of the mind without being too distracting. Although it looks deceptively uncomplicated, the reality is that it has great depth and power. Once it’s become internalised as a mindset, it becomes a ‘competence’ rather than a tool.

People new to coaching may not believe this, but use of the GROW Model (or other simple structuring tools like it) helps coaching to become fluid and natural.

Luminescent arrows in a circleRemember, though, that using GROW isn’t like reading about it. On paper it looks like a set number of stages undertaken in a particular order. Whilst in general that’s true, with practice coaches will recognise that coaching sessions are often cyclical. That means, as and when necessary, the coach will recap earlier phases of GROW throughout a session to maximise the coachee’s ability to cut through any mental fog to see things clearly – and then to move forward. That means going back and forth along the model as the need arises. The skill is to know when.

So what are the bare bones of the GROW Model? Through incisive questioning based on impressions of the coachee’s narrative gained through deep active listening, a coach using the Model covers:

  • Goal setting
  • checking out the Reality of the coachee’s current context and situation
  • generation of Options
  • ensuring the coachee has the Will to move forward with specific actions

We’ll look at each of these in turn, this time concentrating on Goal Setting.

Goal Setting

Here we’re starting to discuss with coachees the issues they’ve decided to bring to the coaching. What does the coachee want to achieve? To be effective, coaching needs to clarify what the coachee’s desired outcomes are – for the session, and for the coaching intervention as a whole. These should be framed in terms of what the coachee wants, not what he or she doesn’t want – an important distinction.

But there’s a snag. When first encountering the GROW Model, we could easily think that goal setting should be left until later in the process. After all, coachees frequently don’t have full clarity on what they want to talk about. Goals may be fuzzy, and it may be necessary to unravel from what we might call a ‘generalised topic’ (or narrative) what the coachee really wants to focus on. Bear with me. Setting goals now does make sense.

The ‘topic’ a coachee comes with can often be large, and initial conversations may meander. Stay with it. Listen. This is a necessary process. Unravelling the generalised topic is what brings insight into what the coachee comes to recognise as the real focus. And this may not be what was initially thought. Gaining this insight can by itself play a large role in resolving a coachee’s issues.

However, it’s crucial to know that identifying the ‘topic’ isn’t identifying the ‘goal(s)’. Goals emerge once the topic has been thoroughly explored and the coachee has gained clarity about what’s really going on. This requires sustained active listening, skillful questioning and probing on the part of the coach. These are what helps the coachee drill down into the topic to reveal the overall goal(s) of the coaching intervention (longer-term ‘end goals’), as well as individual goals for the session (‘performance goals’ as markers towards the longer-terms goals).

So don’t be vague. Keep challenging the coachee to drill down for further and further clarity. Setting these goals for the session is where coaching becomes more than a talking shop. It’s what enables the coachee to walk away with an actionable result.

By now it should be clear that Goal Setting does belong at the beginning of the GROW process. In the hands of a skillful coach, Goal Setting can be what enables the mists to part and clarity to emerge. Setting goals is a first step which helps both coach and coachee look beyond the current situation, and it focuses the ensuing discussions. Revisiting the goals and refining them is a crucial part of the coaching process, and it continues throughout the session and the intervention as a whole, providing the momentum towards setting specific, achievable actions.

Listening is the key ingredient here. But incisive questioning is what hones focus. Some useful questions to consider at this stage are:

  • What is your purpose in your life and your career?     This helps clarify vision, mission and values, enabling the discovery of drivers and motivations, and (if desired) the production of an effective, potent ‘mission statement’.
  • What would be the most valuable topic to focus on?     It’s important that the coachee gains clarity on what he or she really wants to focus on, and the answer to this question can sometimes go part way to resolving the coachee’s issues.
  • When you get up out of your chair, what outcome would be most valuable to you?     One for helping to set goals for the session. It’s vital to clarify what the coachee really wants and the desired takeaways from the session the coachee would most value.

Goal Setting is a crucial part of the success of any coaching intervention or session. We’ll be looking at further aspects of the GROW Model next time.

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2 thoughts on “Structuring coaching sessions with GROW – Part 1: Introduction to the GROW Model & Goal Setting

  1. Pingback: Structuring coaching sessions with GROW – Part 2: Reality, Options & the Will to move forward | Newbycoach thoughts

  2. Pingback: Coaching tools and the 5 basic coaching skills – what do you REALLY need? | Newbycoach thoughts

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