The GROW Model Explained for Coaches (plus .PDF)

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Introduction to The GROW Model

There are many different coaching models out there, but I still haven't found anything that beats the GROW Model for simplicity, effectiveness—and results. Because when you start out as a coach, the grow coaching model is a super helpful framework to keep your coaching sessions on track. And as you get more experienced and GROW becomes automatic, it drops into the background and becomes the foundation around which your coaching sessions dance.

So what is the GROW Model?

The GROW model is a framework that contains all the core elements of an effective coaching session. It's a simple, powerful structured coaching method to help your clients identify a goal for each coaching session, work through what's getting in the way, brainstorm ideas and finally commit to taking concrete action.

Why use the GROW Model in Coaching?

First, because the GROW Model works! It's results-oriented—always ending in the client choosing actions to take. GROW is also easy to remember and easy to follow, so you can relax knowing you've got the key elements of a coaching session covered. And once you know this model off by heart, you'll find it much easier to stay focused and on track in your coaching sessions.

It's helpful to know that the GROW Coaching Model can include a "T for Topic" at the beginning - making it T-GROW. Identifying a Topic (general area to focus in on) is particularly useful when a client comes to their session scattered and unclear. For this reason I've also included a section on T - Topic in the article below.

GROW Diagram

Below is a GROW diagram to give you an overview before we explain the GROW model in more detail.

GROW Diagram - Coaching model Image with descriptions for each acronym letter

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I'm sure you already use the elements of the GROW model (or T-GROW) without even realizing it.

Here's a GROW Coaching Model Overview

  • G: Goal (choose a goal or required outcome for the coaching session)
  • R: Reality (explore where they are around the topic/goal, what's going on for them, what's getting in the way)
  • O: Options (explore ideas and brainstorm what they could do to move forwards)
  • W: Will Do (identify the actions they will do to move forwards)

And to start the session, I like to add:

  • T - Topic (choose a topic or theme for the coaching session)

IMPORTANT: While we may start out using G-R-O-W as the flow or order for our coaching sessions, it doesn't have to be followed rigidly in sequence. Instead GROW or T-GROW simply represents the core elements that make a great, solution-focused coaching session. So in reality, a session may flow more like ROTGOW or TROWG or even TRORGWOW! However, if you always cover the 5 T-GROW elements your client will likely have a successful coaching session.

A little GROW Model History

But before we go into the details, for those interested in the origins of the GROW Model:

According to Wikipedia, the GROW Model was developed in England in the mid 1980s. It was mostly used in corporate coaching with executives and leaders and was first published in 1992 in Sir John Whitmore's book Coaching for Performance (a great book!).

The GROW model had been in use for some time before it was given the acronym GROW. According to Whitmore, Max Landsberg came up with GROW during a conversation with Graham Alexander. At the time Landsberg was a coach and director for consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, and Alexander was a leadership coach. Between them they have written 6 books including Mastering Coaching, Supercoaching and Tales from the Top.

But to muddy the waters, Alan Fine says he co-developed the GROW Model with Whitmore and Alexander. He makes this claim in his 2010 book You Already Know How to Be Great. Fine started out as a tennis coach and helped bring Timothy Gallwey's Inner Game theory from sport into the business coaching world.

So who knows the true originator of the GROW Model? It seems like (in a coach-like fashion) it was truly co-created!

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The (T) GROW Model Explained

Confused client who needs to choose a Topic for the Coaching Session

T - Topic

Why it's important

When the client is unclear what they want from their coaching session, establish a session topic up front. Even a loose topic - is an essential start point. It focuses the client and also makes the session manageable for you as their coach.

The T - Topic is not essential. If a client comes to a session knowing (for example) they want to work on getting that promotion then you can move straight into firming up the Goal.

Use the Topic when the client comes to a session unsure of what are of their life to work on. Or when they're scattered or have several potential session goals to choose from.

The quicker you get your clients to narrow down a Topic for the session, the quicker and easier it is to decide on the session Goal. Only then you can help your client understand what's getting in the way and choose their next moves.

How it fits with other parts of the GROW Coaching Model

Establishing the coaching session Topic often blends with the Reality part of the GROW model. This is because you may need a discussion around what's going on in your client's life in order to drive out what they want to focus in on.

4 Questions to establish a Session T - Topic

  1. "So, how have you been?" (Great open-ended question to drill down from)
  2. "What could we work on that would help you the most over the next few weeks?"
  3. "What ideas did you have in mind for this coaching session?"
  4. "What do you need most from me today?"

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GROW model goal setting with happy woman looking up and contemplating goals

G - Goal

Why it's important

Having a session G - Goal is how you ensure your client gets what they want from every coaching session with you. The session goal enables you to deliver value as well as manage the session timing and stay focused.

Because one of the things that makes coaching different from other therapies is our focus on action and change. We help the client get clarity on what they want from each session, and therefore ensure they receive value, learn and grow.

So when the client drifts away from the topic (as happens often), the session Goal allows us to focus the client. We can say, "We seem to be heading in a different direction here. Your goal for the session was _____, so what would you prefer to focus on?"

  • TIP: This tactic can be especially helpful if you have a client that likes to tell long stories.

GROW Model Goal-Setting

Here are 5 Signs that you did not set up a clear Session G - Goal

  1. The coaching session goes wildly off track.
  2. The session goes around in circles.
  3. The client doesn't realise the "real issue" they wanted to discuss until too late in the session.
  4. You run out of time and don't complete all the steps/comfortably wrap-up the session.
  5. Your session runs over time.

How it fits with other parts of the GROW Coaching Model

When a client comes with a clear session Topic, the next step is to establish the Goal of the session.

The Goal part differs from the Topic in now you want to get specific! You have a loose topic area - now it's time to get clear on the specific outcome/s your client is looking for.

You may need to explore your client's Reality first to uncover a goal. So, review your client's Reality to discover what's bothering them or what would really excite them to work on.

Lastly, use the stated session Goal during the Options and Will do parts of the session. This ensures that ideas and actions identified align with the client's session goal.

Common Questions about G - Goal

Does the session goal have to be SMART?

The session goal doesn't have to be super-specific or 'SMART'. But it does need to be clear enough to give the coaching session a purpose that's understood by you and the client. And it needs to be clear enough to enable you to keep the session on track.

Do you have to agree the session goal at the beginning?

No, the session Goal doesn't have to be agreed right up front - although it's helpful if you can. The session Goal is sometimes 'evolved' during the session as the client figures out what they want to work on.

Other types of goals

Sometimes there's a hidden "goal" for the session that doesn't come out until the end. We ask our clients what their "biggest win" of the session was and they realise something. Perhaps they needed clarity, to feel heard or commit to themselves, be held accountable or feel stimulated and challenged.

How many goals can you have for one session?

Ideally your client will have one goal/required outcome per session.

If the client wants to address more than one issue, you'll need to make the session goals smaller. And you'll need to work harder to stay super-focused and on topic.

With more than one goal, consider managing expectations. You could say something like, "I'm not sure if we'll have time for both these goals in this session but I'll do my best. And if there was a priority here, which goal is most important to work on first?"

G - Goal Wrap-up

In summary, a session goal is what helps us deliver value and keeps the client focused as the session progresses. This ensures they get the support and help they want and need most.

Sometimes establishing the session Goal takes a while, and it may feel like it 'eats' into valuable coaching time. But a super-clear session goal/agreement makes your time together highly focused. And it trains the client to get specific about what they want - which maximises client satisfaction.

So establishing a session Goal is arguably the most important stage of any coaching session. You co-create an agreement with the client for what you'll work on during your time together.

Crucially, the session Goal defines what a successful session looks like for the client.

4 Sample GROW Model Questions to Establish a Session G - Goal

  1. "What's important to really focus in on today?"
  2. "I'm wondering what you would love to have happen by the end of this session?"
  3. "What specifically would you like to get out of the next 30/45/60 minutes?"
  4. "What's the outcome you're looking for from our session today?"

For some great general goal-setting questions, you may like our FREE 21 Questions to Extraordinary Goal-Setting Tool

Set quality goals for each client session so each and every coaching session has clarity—and focus.

Client pondering the Reality of their Situation with head on hand

R - Reality

Why it's important

The R - Reality part of a coaching session is where you help the client understand their situation and how they got there.

So this is where we question, challenge, reframe and reflect back to our client what we see. What have they done so far? What's working for them and what isn't? It's about really getting into where the client is right now and how this impacts them.

The Reality part of the GROW model should also include talking about feelings and digging into emotions. You'll also explore beliefs, gut-feelings and intuition - often new or uncharted frontiers for our clients.

Exploring a client's Reality is the 'meat' of any coaching session, raising our client's self-awareness. We might also look at values, habits, priorities, limiting beliefs, actions taken/not taken and more. This is where the client gains powerful ideas, insights and learns about themselves.

TIP: When a session feels "dry" and functional, or lacks inspiration and insight, it's usually because not enough time was spent exploring the client's Reality.

How it fits with other parts of the GROW Coaching Model

The Topic and Goal frame up what gets explored in this Reality part of the session. In most coaching sessions, we're likely to spend most of our time in the reality part.

That's because it's your client's understanding of their Reality that gives them the impetus and motivation to make change. It's your client's "reality" and how they see their world that impacts what they're willing to take action on.

So explore your client's Reality well, before moving onto brainstorming Options and committing to what they Will do.

Things to watch out for with R - Reality

So it's important not to prematurely explore Options and Will do (actions) during the Reality phase of the GROW Model.

It's likely that some Options and Will do (actions) will be uncovered while exploring the client's Reality. But remember to keep an open mind about the actions your clients will eventually commit to.

I have often found that the "real" or deeper reason a client isn't moving forward comes out (or is clarified) towards the end of the Reality phase. So, as you explore your client's current reality, you'll likely uncover more and more of their obstacles and motivations.

As coaches we help our clients go beyond the obvious. We want to ensure the actions our clients choose address underlying and not surface reasons. And a premature leap to solutionising can lead to superficial answers that won't truly motivate or move the client forward.

Any solutions a client comes up with during the Reality part of the session could be the actions they leave the session with - but not necessarily.

When we finally get to delving into the Options or Will do our client could choose an action not previously thought of. They might identify an action with a much bigger impact, a more easily achievable or more enjoyable action! Or we might stretch them to think bigger.

AND yet...

If it feels right, or your client is in flow, you can absolutely delve into brainstorming Options in the middle of the Reality phase. Perhaps your client is excited and ready to commit to what they Will do.

So feel free to jump into the Options and Will do parts of the GROW model at any time.

Just remember that you may need to jump back to Reality and then revisit the Options and Will do to ensure your client fully achieves their session Goal.

Don't worry. It's easier in practice than it sounds!

Simply remain focused on the client's required Goal for the session. Then explore the Reality, Options and Will do as many times as you need to, and in whatever order works for your client, until you have an action plan your client will commit to.

5+ GROW Model Questions for R - Reality

  1. "Describe a day in your life—as it relates to this issue or goal. What are the daily impacts?"
  2. "Where are you now in relation to your goal?", "What have you already done towards your goal?" and "What have you learned so far?"
  3. "What are you telling yourself, that's getting in the way?"
  4. "Who will be the 'winners' and 'losers' if you achieve your goal?" and "How does this affect how you feel about your goal?"
  5. "What has prevented you from doing more/moving towards your goal?"

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Happy Client pointing at Options for the GROW Model

O - Options

Why it's important

If the client could solve their problems alone, they would have. Often what they need is help brainstorming or support to take an action they've been putting off.

This may involve tweaking an existing action, challenging and inspiring your client to make an action bigger. Or it could also mean shrinking an action to make it more achievable. Either way, a good dig around in the O - Options to discover ideas for our clients pays huge dividends.

How it fits with other parts of the GROW Coaching Model

It's great to explore Options once the Reality has been 'fully' explored. But our minds are not linear (however much we might like them to be).

Often while finding Options, another layer of a client's Reality is uncovered and needs to be explored. Sometimes a client 'knows' they've found the action they Will do, and you can skip the Options brainstorming.

So be flexible. And remember to stay focused on the ideas and actions that move your client towards their session Goal.

O - Options Helpful Tips

Remember that in brainstorming—anything goes! Literally anything. This is where the client can come up with their wildest and wackiest ideas: Who knows what practical or doable idea might result?

Sometimes our best actions are a 'toned down' version of an outlandish idea. Sometimes the client suddenly sees a way to implement something that initially seemed "crazy" or "impossible". So encourage your client to throw out as many ideas as they can. And remind your clients that just become they come up with an idea doesn't mean they have to do it...

The best—and breakthrough—actions often come out toward the end of the Options phase. So allow enough time to relax into it...

And finally, a helpful reframe. For clients who struggle with freely identifying ideas, remind them to focus on what's "Possible" and not what's "Probable".

The vast majority of problems, decisions and situations which confront us daily are those which do not have just one answer. Several solutions are usually possible. Logic suggests that if one can mentally generate many possible solutions, the more likely it is that an optimum solution will be reached. This a creative process - the formation of new and useful relationships. Richard E. Manelis

5 GROW Model Questions to Establish O - Options

    1. "What could you STOP doing?", "...Do LESS of?", "...Do MORE of?", "...CONTINUE doing?" and "...START doing?" (Make a list)
    2. "Let's imagine it's a year from now and you've accomplished your goal. What steps have you taken to achieve it?"
    3. "Let's imagine you're really excited about this. What would you do?"
    4. "What could you do if you knew you couldn't fail?"
    5. "Imagine you're an expert in this area. What ideas do you have now?"
    6. "What if time/money/failure/what other people thought was not an issue?"

Another resource to help you with O - Options

Creativity consists of coming up with many ideas, not just that one great idea. Charles Thompson

Smiling Client Flexing Arm muscle to show what they Will Do

W - Will Do

Why it's important

The essence of coaching is facilitating change. This usually, but not always, means the client taking some kind of action. And that's where the W - Will do of the GROW model comes in. Sometimes called the W - Way Forward, I prefer "Will do" as it's more specific.

So, I make sure every client leaves their session committed to at least ONE Will do.

NOTE: When we use the word action, it sounds like actions should be concrete, visible steps—but actions can take innumerable forms. A client's action could also be to change the way they approach or do something or a shift in focus. Examples could include paying attention to how they feel, stopping doing something or even consciously doing nothing!

Another key part of Will do is to ensure your clients fully commit to the actions they choose. Is there time to fit the actions into their busy lives? Would they like to be stretched more so the action seems more exciting? Or do they need to simplify their actions to maximise their chances of success?

How it fits with other parts of the GROW Coaching Model

The Will do part of the GROW model is the culmination of your coaching session's work.

In theory, your client deciding what they Will do, follows on from the Options part of your coaching session. Your clients review the ideas they've just identified—and choose one or more actions to commit to.

And of course the actions chosen should focus on achieving your client's stated session Goal.

NOTE: It's also possible that your client will also identify actions for other areas of their lives ie. actions not related to the session goal. But for maximum client satisfaction, ensure your client leaves with at least one action that moves them towards their session Goal.

When we are interested, we do what is convenient. When we are committed, we do whatever it takes. Nithya Shanti

7 GROW Model Questions for W - Will Do/Actions

Choosing Actions to Take

  1. "So, re-play your key options to me…"
  2. "What could you do as the very first step towards meeting your goal?"

Establishing Commitment

  1. "How might you commit to that?"
  2. "On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to complete that action?"
    Then, "What stops that being a 10?"
    And, "What could you do to raise the score?"

Identifying and Dealing with Obstacles to Action Completion

  1. "What could get in the way of you completing that action?"


  1. "What 3 things could you do to support yourself and make sure this gets done?"
  2. "How would you like to be held accountable for these actions?"

Other Useful Ws to Consider

W can also be: "WHAT do you need from me?": Ask this question to find out what they need from you to support them in moving forwards.

W also stands for WIN: "What was your biggest win of the session today?" By asking this question, we not only reinforce the value of coaching, but learn what's really important to our clients.

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Coach pondering issues with the GROW Model

A Few Final GROW Model Considerations

The GROW Model—and Specific Types of Coaching Sessions

What if a coaching session is dedicated to brainstorming? Or I'm taking a deep dive into a particular area of a client's life?

Well, the GROW model still applies—but the balance of time you spend in each area may be different.

It's still important to agree the Topic of the session and the Goal or required outcome. A session Goal could be a brainstormed list of ideas or to gain a fuller understanding of a situation. As always, the session topic and goal help you keep the client—and session—on track.

Then, if you're taking a deep dive into an issue you may spend most of the time in Reality. Or if you're brainstorming ideas you may spend more time in Options.

Finally simply ask the client, "So, what will you do with this information?", or "What's the next step?" to get to the Will do.

What if the goal of the session is to SET goals?

The GROW model still applies!

Simply agree the session Goal will set a particular type and number of goals. For example, "Set my annual goals" or, "Identify my career goals for this year". Then use the Reality phase to explore what they've done so far, values, outcomes etc. Then use the Options phase to explore possible goals and goal variations (eg. dates, relative goal priorities). Finally, identify what your client Will do—which goals will they commit to and what will they do next?

What's Missing in the GROW Model?

For me the only thing that's not specifically covered—and is missing—is ongoing accountability. The GROW or T-GROW coaching model is a "coaching session model" rather than an entire coaching model or process.

In the GROW or T-GROW model, there isn't anywhere to review actions agreed at previous sessions. While the GROW model identifies actions in the Will do phase, it doesn't cover following-up on those actions. We can't do that until the next session.

We live in a world where it's easy for people to find "more important" things to do than working towards their life and career goals. So, for many people, accountability is a key benefit of coaching. Their coach is someone who will ask (and check) whether they followed through on their commitments to themselves.

There also isn't anywhere to celebrate actions completed—or to explore and learn why actions were not completed. Unless we explicitly ask, this could easily get missed.

So (if the client doesn't raise it themselves) I start my coaching sessions by reviewing actions from the previous session—before getting into the T-GROW model.

The GROW Model and "Dancing in the moment"

Above all, remember the GROW or T-GROW model is not a fixed sequence.

Instead, use the GROW model as a framework to help you stay on track—while you dance in the moment!

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GROW Diagram Model Image - Square

Click to get this GROW Diagram!

Despite the lack of accountability, I see the GROW model as the coaching session ESSENTIALS. Without any one of these elements in a coaching session, something important would be missing.

We want our clients to feel satisfied and to get what they want from coaching with us. The GROW model framework keeps us on track, and makes sure our clients leave their coaching sessions with powerful actions.

And what I really love about the GROW model is that you can also layer any coaching tool or broader coaching model over the top. Yet you can still use it to manage and deliver value in your coaching sessions.

The GROW model really is your ultimate coaching tool!

The Final Word

I hope this GROW Model article helps you and your clients have more enjoyable and satisfying coaching sessions! How will you use GROW going forwards?

If you liked this article on the GROW Model, you may also like:

  1. The Complete Guide to Coaching Tools & Exercises
  2. GROW Model Questions: 79+ Helpful Coaching Questions to use with the GROW Model
  3. Coaching Questions: 53 Great Examples and When to Use Them!

© 2024 Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd.

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Blue desk with GROW Model notebook and flowers by Julia Sudnitskaya via Shutterstock

Image of GROW Model Client Shrugs for T - TOPIC by Asier Romero via Shutterstock

Image of Client pondering their G - GOALS by mimagephotography via Shutterstock

Image of Client Pondering their R - REALITY and Thoughtful Client with GROW Model Issues by Carlos David via Shutterstock

Image of Happy GROW Model Client on Yellow Considering OPTIONS by Prostock-studio via Shutterstock

Image of T-GROW Model Strong Client Deciding W - WILL DO by Roman Samborskyi via Shutterstock

Image of Sprout at centre of GROW Model image by Vitechek via Shutterstock


  1. Karen Lukanovich

    Wow, thank you for this excellent overview of the GROW model Emma-Louise! I really connected with this model a couple of years ago, and since reading Sir Whitmore's book "Coaching for Performance", it's had a significant impact on several aspects of my coaching and influence over my own goal setting model and approach. The questions within this model are also a great tool for coaches to add to their tool kit!

    Warmly, Karen

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Karen, you are MOST welcome 🙂
      I'm so glad you like it and found it helpful. And I love that book by Sir John Whitmore.
      Warmly, Emma-Louise

      • Mohsen Mohajeri

        ِDear Emma,
        thank you very much for useful info which you put in your website. beside the fantastic contents, design and photos are beautiful and it encourage every one to read full texts.
        As I mentioned in my message to you through Instagram, I'm writing a book about coaching models and surely I'll use your article about GROW model.
        Kind Regards,
        Mohsen Mohajeri

      • Emma-Louise

        Dear Moshen, first, thank-you for taking the time to comment! And I'm so glad you find our website and this article all about the GROW Model helpful 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise

  2. Paul Brooke

    As always, great content.
    I totally enjoy getting your emails and tips for coaching. I am at fledgling stage and still creating my unique proposition.
    These articles assist greatly in clarifying my ideal client and how to start conversations.

  3. Paul Bailey

    Hey Emma-Louise

    Love the article, been using GROW in a limited way for a while but this provides enough info to use it more often.

    You have probably seen them but I use sets of GROW cards for coaching activities when training managers that have colours for each element of GROW. You can find them at reveal solutions.

    Managers love them, had one comment they learned more in the fifteen minutes of the exercise then in the last few months trying to solve the issue they were dealing with.

    Thanks for great practical resources.


    • mturcott

      Thank you for your kind words, Paul. I haven't seen these particular cards yet but they sound great! Warmly, Mary

  4. Tleli Makhetha

    I am absolutely grateful to you for sharing this approach to the GROW model. As a coach I am constantly looking to develop my skills in order to better help my clients achieve their outcomes. The way in which you have broken the model so well into its contents makes me more confident in applying it. Awesome.

    • mturcott

      Thank you for your kind words, Tleli! We're so glad you found our breakdown of the GROW Model helpful! Warmly, Mary

  5. keith hackett

    I was trained as a coach by the School of Coaching which Sir John Whitmore founded, at the Industrial Society (2001/02). I qualified as an Exec Performance Coach through the School, the learning, development and final award, quality assured by the University of Strathclyde (Scotland). In 2005, whilst delivering an overdue IT project for a London hospital, I attempted to use GROW with one of the teams, only to be told that "coaching is black box bull....!". Nevertheless I pursued and was challenged to create something with a clear process and measurable outcomes and if I met this challenge, the individuals concerned would engage with me. I did and so did they. I combined GROW with elements from Solutions Focus(c) and PRINCE2(c) (project management), to produce GoalPOSTS. A model I have used ever since and is now being explored as a model and process supporting mental health Recovery Journeys. I wanted to share this story because it's important for all coaches to recognise that they need to be innovative, adaptive to their own and clients' needs, and not slavishly adhere to a particular principle.

    • mturcott

      Great to hear from you, Keith! You're absolutely right - coaches will gain a lot from being innovative and adpative. Thank you for sharing your story. Warmly, Mary

  6. Atul Thakrar

    Thank you. A really good simple to understand article which also covered the few missing elements

  7. Renu Arora

    I am in the infancy stage of coaching. This article has been like a great revelation. Thanks for sharing it. It would definitely help me hone my skills so as to help me and my clients achieve the outcomes.

    • Michela Phillips

      So glad you found the article useful, Renu! Thanks for sharing!
      - Kindly, Michela


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