Manager's Guide to the GROW Model for One-on-Ones

Know when and how to coach in one-on-one meetings with the GROW coaching model.


Coaching is an increasingly important management skill that helps team members open up, discover and explore solutions to problems, and build trust and accountability on teams. It's become a more important skill in recent years as fast, consistent, disruptive change is the norm. Many managers are learning to coach so that they can support team members in finding new answers to problems, rather than supplying the answers or solutions they've used in the past.


Here's a framework for coaching your team members in one-on-ones to think strategically and creatively about solving any problem, the GROW Model is:


Goal - Establish a goal


Establish what your team member wants to accomplish at the beginning of a one-on-one meeting. It can be their goal for a project, career aspiration, clarity around their role in the organization, or what they hope to get out of a particular experience. Team members can have a hard time being direct about what they hope to achieve with your support, and may need help articulating it. A good way to start is to ask something like, “What do you want when you walk out the door that you don’t have now?” or “What will things be like for you in a month from now without addressing this?”


Reality - Examine the current reality


With the goal of your conversation established, ask questions rooted in what, when, where and how to help focus your conversation on facts. This sets a constructive tone for the conversation. You’ll want to avoid “why” questions because “why” questions demand that people explore reasons and motivations rather than facts. In doing that, it can carry overtones of judgment or trigger attempts at self-justification, both of which can be counterproductive. If your team member offers “why’s” in the conversation, redirect them so that you can ask more what, when, and where questions.


During this stage, a good reality-focused question to ask is, “What are the key things to know?” Pay special attention to how team members respond. Are they missing something important? Typically you can identify what they might be missing in a situation when you listen for two things in responses: exclusively addressing operational issues or exclusively addressing people problems.


This stage helps your team members slow down and think critically, and they often lose themselves in contemplation. In slowing down to communicate the problem effectively, you’ll often find that team members identify the problem on their own. For example, they might realize that they didn’t address an important operational step or forgot to include someone in an important decision. When team members can identify the problem themselves, they engage with new energy and a fresh perspective. This coaching approach stops people from overlooking pertinent variables and leaping to conclusions. It also supports the dynamic that they’re accountable for solving their own problems.


Options - Explore options


When team members come to you for coaching, it might be because they feel stuck. They might say something like, “I’m torn between...” or “My only option is...” When you hear these prompts, it’s time to help them think more broadly and deeply. To broaden the conversation, ask something as simple as, “What would you do if you could wave a magic wand?” People find this type of question freeing, and it often leads to thinking in new, productive ways. Once they’ve broadened their perspective and discovered new options, prompt them to deepen their thinking to assess the strengths, weaknesses and risks of each option.


Will - Establish the will


Ask something like, “What will you do now?” This encourages the team member to create or review a specific action plan. If the conversation has gone well, your team member has a clear sense of what that plan is. If they don’t, you may want to cycle back through the earlier steps of the GROW process and help them define how they’ll attack the problem. This step doesn’t always naturally come up in conversation, so use private meeting notes to give yourself a prompt for remembering this step.


Coaching takes more than one session to be effective, especially if it’s breaking previously established norms for your 1-on-1s. But when you notice your team members are growing increasingly inquisitive, asking good questions and working from the premise that they don’t have all the answers, that’s how you know your coaching is effective.


The GROW model is great to use in 1-on-1s, but coaching can also happen outside of 1-on-1s in brief exchanges or even online chats. In brief exchanges, you might respond to a request for help by posing a single question, such as “What are possible solutions you’ve thought of?” or “What’s the most important thing?”


Will you try this model in your next one-on-one meeting? Let us know how it goes or if you have any questions about the GROW model by replying back to this email.


“A good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life.” -- John Wooden