Coaching using GROW - focus on the O

GROW was developed and used by Sir John Whitmore and has become, I think, one of the most widely taught and used coaching models in the UK.  Those who train people in it, teach it as a framework with four stages: GOAL, REALITY, OPTIONS, WILL.  Each follows the other, for example, R follows G because setting a goal needs to come first.

The basis for the options stage is for the coach to elicit "what could you do" and help the coachee generate as wide as set of options as possible.  The coach needs to therefore have at their disposal a wide and deep pocketful of questions.  Once many options have been identified, even "off the wall" ones, then one or more can be selected to work on and move to WILL.

Whether a coach uses GROW or not, exploring options crops up in many approaches, for example, Downey's Pull/Push model, where, dependent on whether the coach is being directive or non directive, they generate options before moving to solutions.  What is crucial about options is that without it there is probably little or no coachee ownership of their goal leading to a successful outcome.  


"When you are sure that you have no more ideas, just come up with one more."

You're not trying to find the 'right' answer, rather create as many alternatives as possible.  And it is the coachee who identifies the options.  The role of the coach is to ask questions and not tell the coachee or suggest what could be on their list.  People learning to coach sometimes say to me "but what if I know the right answer or I know what a good solution would be for them?".  The answer is, you probably don't.  You know what a good solution for YOU would be if this was your situation.  You might well be very experienced.  But the role of the coach is to be an expert in coaching, not an expert in their coachee's work/life/business.  Some experienced coaching colleagues I know do offer ideas at this stage, but they follow golden rules:

  • suggesting comes last, if the list has been exhausted or the individual is really stuck
  • no undermining of ownership or engagement of the coachee
  • seek permission - i.e. note  (the coach) has an idea and does the coachee want to know
  • no emphasis or championing of a coach's ideas as any better than the coachee's 

Options generation should never be under estimated.  It is the part where creativity and ideas start to flow.  However crazy or wild the ideas are, the coach remains non judgmental.  There is no room for censorship, ridicule or collusion (e.g. 'Oh yes, that's a good one, I've done that before).  I encourage all my coachees to write notes, and at an options stage I encourage them to write the options as a list and not hold back.  I help them stay on message by challenging statements such as "that won't work because".  This is because underpinning coaching practice is the requirement for the coach to build self belief, responsibility and awareness.  As a consequence, this includes the role of the coach as one who challenges assumptions. The same skill is in use - skilled questioning.

Once a list of options has been generated, the coach can move the coachee to WILL.  Selection of the best option or prioritising some of them can be done.

In summary, O for the coach

  • ask don't tell
  • brainstorm options to the limit, and then find one more however crazy
  • ensure choice
  • build self belief
  • use "what if" when negative assumptions arise

O questions - examples

  • Describe fantasy land – if you could do anything what might you do?
  • Make a list of all the alternatives
  • What else could you do?
  • What if you had more time/a larger budget/if you were the boss?
  • If you had 100% of time to spend on this what would you do?
  • If money was no object, what would you do?
  • What if you could start again with a clean sheet/a new team?

In moving from options to WILL, use questions that invite selection and choice, for example, "which one of these appeals the most?"  Make sure the coachee can identify how they can move forward as well.

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