The GROW model is a standard coaching technique, used to help someone decide for themselves on a way forward in the face of challenges. Coaching approaches are appropriate when the primary aim is to help an individual develop or solve a problem for themselves, or the way forward is genuinely uncertain. In other circumstances, more traditional mentoring or other techniques may be more fitting.
How do you use GROW?
GROW is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, Will. The technique involves working through these four stages in order. In each stage, the coach helps the coachee by asking open questions to help them explore the challenge and find solutions.
1. Establish the Goal
e.g. "I want my Product Owner to come to stand-up every day and get involved"
- What do you want to achieve?
- What would 'great' look like?
2. Examine the Current Reality
e.g. "The PO comes once a week at most and doesn't say much"
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- What's wrong with the situation now?
- What (if anything) have you already tried?
3. Explore the Options
This comes in two parts.
(a) Identify the options
- "I could tell the PO's boss and ask her to make him come"
- "I could explain to him why it's important to me that he comes and ask why he isn't coming"
- "I could find a different person to act as PO"
- What else could you do?
- What have others done in similar situations?
(b) Assess the options
- What's the best and worst likely outcome for each option?
- What obstacles stand in your way?
- Who else could help you?
- What advice would you give to others in similar situations?
4. Establish the Will
- What will you do now, and when? What's your first step?
- What could stop you moving forward? How will you overcome this?
- How important is this compared to other issues?
- How likely are you to take action? What could make it even more likely?
- What support do you need?
Do and don't
Do work through the four stages in sequence. They are carefully ordered to avoid limiting options too early or jumping to conclusions.
Don't freestyle or skip back and forward.
Do follow the technique consciously, but try to apply it naturally and inquisitively. This keeps the coachee focused on their challenge and not on the technique.
Don't be too explicit about the technique or too mechanical in using it. If the coachee does recognise the technique, however, it's fine to acknowledge it.
Do be careful to stay in coaching mode, focusing on helping the person you are coaching uncover and analyse options.
Don't slip into mentoring mode by offering your own ideas too readily. This risks constraining thinking by your own knowledge and experience.
Do use careful prompting and probing to make sure options are carefully analysed.
Do use your experience to guide where deeper thought would be beneficial.
Don't impose your own ideas too strongly.
Do finish with a strong Will section to help drive action.
Don't act like a manager. You are helping the person being coached to change outcomes through their own actions.
Do stick to business and professional topics. Signpost to others who can help when appropriate.
Don't try to solve personal problems unless you are qualified to do so. Coaching is not counselling or therapy.
Coaching compared to mentoring
Coaching focuses on helping individuals or teams find answers for themselves. "I'll help you discover your own way."
The two main situations where this is effective are:
- Where the primary aim is to develop the coachee's ability to find answers for themself in future.
- Where the way forward is not clear to the coach because they do not have specific relevant experience.
Mentoring, by comparison, focuses on using the mentor's skills and experience to help find answers. "I'll share with you how I'd approach it, based on my experience."
This is most appropriate if either:
- The primary aim is to develop specific specialist skills in the coachee where the mentor is more skilled.
- The coachee is unlikely to be able to reach good outcomes without the greater degree of support which mentoring provides.
Don't slip into mentoring by accident
Try to be clear whether you are in coaching or mentoring mode and stick to it — or consciously switch if that's appropriate. It's very easy to slip into mentoring when you should be coaching and lose the benefits of the coaching approach. If you do feel a switch would help then you could explicitly call that out, "I have something to share which I think would really help. Is it OK if I switch to mentoring for a moment?"