Better Coaching Using the GROW Model

Role of the Project Manager | By Duncan Haughey | Read time minutes

Coaching word cloud

In my article, Why Project Managers Should Coach - I outline the benefits of coaching your project team to produce better results. In this article, I look at a coaching technique that will help you become a better coach. First, let's understand why you should coach.

Why Coach

Coaching helps people develop and become better at what they do. The coach and coachee should look at what needs to change to help the coachee improve their performance. Do this by examining the current reality and understanding the starting point. Are they missing anything? What will they benefit from in terms of skills and training?

There are many definitions of coaching, one I particularly like comes from Eric Parslow who describes coaching as, a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be successful, a coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which coaching takes place. [1]

Coaching is not just for poor performance, it can be used to help project team members develop and achieve their goals, while producing better results on your projects.

The GROW Model

In the 1980s, Sir John Whitmore and his team of Performance Consultants developed the GROW model; now firmly embedded in the world of business coaching. GROW stands for:

  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • Way Forward

The model is designed to help the coachee think things through for themselves and drive towards improved performance. Let's take each area in turn and explore how we use it during a coaching conversation:

Goal: what is the objective or desired outcome? It must be specific and measurable, think SMART. Ask the coachee, "How will you know when you have achieved that goal?"

Reality: what is the current situation? What is stopping the goal from being reached? Check any assumptions with the coachee, "Why do you think that might happen?"

Options: what choices do they have? What different journeys can they choose to reach the goal? This is also known as 'Obstacles Exploration.' Avoid making suggestions on the coachee's behalf.

Way Forward: what will they do next? This is also known as 'Will' or 'Wrap-Up.' Gain commitment to an action and a follow-up if required.

The Coaching Conversation

Once you are ready to start coaching your team member, hold a coaching conversation to explore the options available; asking what is possible? This may take the form of a brainstorming session following the GROW model, taking each area in turn. During the conversation, ask the coachee to commit to specific actions to achieve their goals. If possible, try to find actions that boost motivation. As coach, identify any risks or barriers and remove them.

Good GROW Questions

Here are some questions to get you started, adapted from Sir John Whitmore's book, Coaching for Performance: [2]

Goal (for both the session and the person's short and long-term goals)

  1. What do you want to achieve?
  2. What is your ultimate, long-term goal?
  3. What is important to you now?
  4. What would you like to get out of the next 60 minutes?
  5. On what areas or issue do you want to work?
  6. Describe your perfect world.
  7. What would you like to have as a result of this coaching session?
  8. What steps can you identify that will be essential to achieving your long-term goal?
  9. What will make you feel this time has been well spent?
  10. How will you know when you have achieved your goal?


  1. Where are you now with your goal?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10 where are you?
  3. What has contributed to your success so far?
  4. What skills, knowledge and attributes do you have?
  5. What progress have you made so far?
  6. Does this goal conflict with anything else you are doing?
  7. What is working well?
  8. What is required of you?
  9. What can you control?
  10. What deadlines do you have?


  1. What are your options?
  2. How have you tackled this or a similar situation in the past?
  3. What could you do differently?
  4. Who else has encountered a similar situation?
  5. Which option feels right to you?
  6. If anything was possible what would you do?
  7. What could you do if you had more time, money, freedom?
  8. If this constraint was removed, would it change things?
  9. What do you need to stop doing to achieve this goal?
  10. What obstacles stand in your way?

Way Forward

  1. Which option works best for you?
  2. What is your next step? Write it down.
  3. What actions will you take?
  4. When are you going to start?
  5. How will you make sure that you do it?
  6. Who will help and support you? When?
  7. How will you know you have been successful?
  8. On a scale of 1 to 10 how committed are you to taking the agreed actions?
  9. What will you do to get this closer to a 10?
  10. When shall we meet again to check progress?

Practice and Learn

Consider opportunities for frequent and regular coaching conversations with your project team members. The best way to become good at something is to practice. The same applies to the GROW model and coaching in general. The more you practice, the better you will become.


[1]The Manager as Coach and Mentor, page 8, Parsloe, Eric, 1999.

[2]Coaching for Performance, pages 174-176, Whitmore, Sir John, 2002.

Recommended read: Why Project Managers Should Coach, by Darren Cockburn.


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