We recently interviewed Idan Manor, a senior IT manager, and discussed techniques and tools for leadership.  Idan mentioned that he used the GROW model during one on one (1:1) sessions.

How do you use the GROW model when conducting one on one meetings?  As a leader, you want to help your team develop, and the GROW model can help you have structured coaching sessions with team members.  The model revolves around setting a goal and then thinking deeply about how to achieve that goal by asking lots of open-ended questions.

Let us explore the GROW model, and discuss how to use it when running one on one meetings.

What is the GROW model?

The GROW model stands for:

  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • Way Forward

Note: Some models have a separate "Obstacles" phase, but I like rolling the Obstacles discussion into the Reality phase and keeping the abbreviation simple.

Setting the Goal

In a one on one meeting, the discussion starts by establishing a goal for the team member.  This goal can't be your goal but has to be something that comes from, and resonates with, the person being coached.

It is OK to help the team member brainstorm suggesting:

  • What areas in their professional life do they want to strengthen? i.e.  I want to be more comfortable when I have to present to the team.  I want to be more confident about the quality of the code I write.
  • What skills do they want to learn/improve to help build their career? i.e. I want to get certification X.  I want to be able to contribute to architectural discussions.
  • What habit/behaviour would they like to change? i.e. I would like to listen more.  I want to get to work before 10 am.

Ensuring the Goal is SMART

The goal is central to the GROW model.  With a well structured and achievable goal, the rest of the GROW steps are much more manageable.

The classic model for setting an effective goal is SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timed


The more specific a goal is, the easier it is to measure, decide whether it is achievable, ensure it is relevant to other goals/vision and to determine a realistic time frame.

So rather than setting a vague goal like:

Get fit

Think about what getting fit means to you at this time.  What made you want to get fit?  Maybe you tried going on a run with a friend and couldn't keep up, so a more specific goal might be:

Run for 3km without stopping

Or you may have taken your blood pressure and realised it is a bit too high.  Your overall goal maybe something like:

Reduce my Systolic pressure to below 120 and Diastolic pressure to below 80

Even though this goal is specific regarding results, it doesn't tell you what you need to do each day to achieve it.  You may create some subgoals that, if you accomplish them, will help you complete the top-level goal:

Lose 10kg

Establish a habit of running 30min a day

For ideas on how to reduce your blood pressure check out Mayo Clinic's "10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication"

Check out our article on "How to Measure OKRs" to see how to structure goals.  The 'goal' "Reduce blood pressure..." would be an Objective which could have reducing weight and establishing an exercise routine as Key Results.  If we achieve the Key Results, we hypothesise that the Objective will be met.  If not, then we can try a different set of Key Results.


You must not only be able to tell whether you have achieved the goal but also gauge how far away you are from reaching it.  A vague goal, which is hard to measure, is easy to neglect.

Having a measurable goal allows you to not only have a satisfying sense of accomplishment when you have undeniably achieved what you have set out to do but can also gives you a sense of satisfaction when you have haven't reached your goal but can see that you have made progress, which can help you continue to work towards achieving your goal.


"Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won... " Sun Tzu, 'Art of War', Chapter IV:15

It is crucial to settle on goals that are realistic and achievable.   If you work at unattainable goals, you will eventually give up in frustration or may even cause yourself harm.

Life is a race only with yourself.  Take the time to build a rhythm, building on small successes rather than being crushed under an enormous failure.  Don't stress about getting your first goal right; this is not the only goal you will set in your life.  Hopefully, you will regularly set and reach your goals, slowly and steadily building momentum as you move slightly out of your comfort zone each time.

As you get better at setting and reaching your goals, what you will correctly consider as achievable will expand.


We can only ever hold one or two long term top-level goals at a time.  We may also have established a life vision or have an idea of where we are trying to steer ourselves.  You may have a vision of being a successful entrepreneur or an amazing parent.

When you set your goals, you have to make sure they don't contradict:

  • your top-level goals or vision
  • other goals you are working towards

If you are trying to lose weight, then maybe competing in an eating competition may not yield the best overall results.

Relevant goals also have context and a clear Why.  This goal, if I achieve it, will help me do X, which would help with Y.  If your goals align and you clearly understand why you are doing them, then it much more likely that you will stick at them, even when things don't go smoothly.


Goals should be time-bound.  It is easy to neglect a goal that is not framed with an end date.  A goal like "I will lose 10kg" can always be postponed till it becomes meaningless as opposed to "I will lose 10kg by the end of Winter".

If the end of Winter is twelve weeks away and you have already lost 4kg, then you know you need to lose 0.5 kg a week, on average, to hit your goal.  Always be safe!  If you get close to the end of Winter and you can't get the last 4kg off DON'T starve yourself!  It is OK to adjust your goals.  Pat yourself on the back for getting as far as you have and then adjust the goal.  Give yourself another three months to lose that last 4kg in a healthy and sustainable way.

Taking Stock of Current Situation (Reality)

With the goal now established, it is time to work through the practicalities of how to achieve it.

Firstly we look at the current situation, the Reality.   The current reality is where the client is now. What are the issues, the challenges, how far are they away from their goal?

Our view of the world is always distorted.  What we think of as 'true' is merely a construct based on our internal model of the world.  This view of 'reality' may still be useful or not useful.  The Reality phase aims to try and help the person being coached to establish a helpful and healthy view of reality.  This reality is then used as the basis for the rest of the GROW model.

You can help the person being coached by asking open questions like:

  • "Tell me about what is happening now?"
  • "What barriers or obstacles will you face?"
  • "What has prevented you from achieving this goal in the past?"
TIP: Never judge the person you are coaching or their situation.  They need to feel safe to come to the realisations they need.  Your job is to facilitate their journey, not to judge them.

The questions above are great conversation starters, but the core issues/blockers/shift in perception required usually lie deeper.  Using a technique like the 5 Whys can be very helpful.

In the context of a one on one meeting, the 5 Whys is merely asking "Why?" five times for an open question.  Ensure the person being coached understands what is happening and that the whys are not there to annoy them but to try and find the root cause/belief.

As a manager in the same organisation as the person being coached, you probably have some valuable insight into what problems that person needs to overcome and what value/strength they can leverage.

A successful Reality phase should establish a clear picture of what the current situation/environment is like, what obstacles/challenges might prevent them from achieving their goal.

Developing Options

We have a clear idea of what we want to achieve and why (Goal), and we have a good idea of the current situation including obstacles/challenges (Reality), so now we need to explore what Options we have to help achieve the goal.

Options can include physical and mental tools to help, i.e. if trying to improve one's fitness then exploring nearby gyms and learning about willpower models would be helpful.

Options could also include possible support structures and opportunities, i.e. if we wanted to be more confident presenting ideas to the team, joining a Toastmasters group and volunteering to talk at an industry conference would help build support and structure for achieving the goal.

Tools that can help uncover and develop options include open-ended questioning like:

  • "What do you think are some available options?"
  • "Whats the advantages/disadvantages of option X?"
  • "If you didn't have any restrictions or constraints, what would you do?"

While answering these questions, develop a mind map on the whiteboard.  Don't be afraid to go shallow and broad initially and then dive deeper later.  Also, make it clear that there are no such things as silly options, put some outrageous options on the whiteboard.  This helps to come up with creative and out of the box ideas.

TIP: Don't ask multiple questions at the same time.  Ask one open-ended question at a time and ensure the person being coached has time to consider the question and answer it fully.  The less talking you do, the better :-)

A productive Options phase should provide a list of viable options with the ones that are easy to implement and deliver the most value at the top of the list.

The person being coached should also have a clear idea of what they need to do to take advantage of these options, and their progress can be tracked at future one on one meetings, i.e. if they want to join a gym then that can be broken down into steps like 'Develop a list of criteria for gym (cost, accessibility, locker storage and swimming pool)', 'Find five closest gyms and visit' and 'Join best gym'.

Way Forward

We have a plan.  We know what we need to to do to achieve the goal.  We now need to shift into action.

Thinking through what needs to be done, how you will do it, and how you will feel when it is done, can help move one into action.

Discuss questions like:

  • "When are you going to start?"
  • "What are you going to do and when?"
  • "Who can help you?"
  • "How can you improve your chances of doing it?"
TIP: Do not ask leading questions which indicate the answer you want.  It is easy to get impatient and push the person being coached into saying what you want to hear, but this is not helpful.  The person being coached is going through their own journey and need to arrive at answers that resonate with them.

Try and encourage the person being coached to start small.  You want to build a habit of working towards the goal a little each day.  It is better to be consistent and chip away at the goal a little each day, especially if the goal is trying to work on a habit.

Starting small and building on small wins builds momentum.  What you may find is starting slow results in more significant momentum later on than going all-in from the start.

A successful Way Forward phase of the GROW model will leave the person being coached with a sense of confidence and excitement.  They know precisely what they need to do and when to achieve their goal.  They are chomping at the bit to start!

Don't Rush the Process

When running one on one meetings, it is best not to let them drag on too long.  Thirty minutes to an hour maximum!  Running an entire GROW process would not be realistic in such a short time frame.

However, the GROW process can benefit from periods of reflection between sessions.  The subconscious needs time to digest and consider, so setting some homework between one on one meetings would be advantageous.

In your initial meeting, you can take the person being coached through the GROW model and explain to them how it can help them.  Go through setting SMART goals and ask them to reflect on possible goals that resonate with them (would help in and out of work).

You can set homework like generating mind maps, creating various option assessment artifacts or researching before relevant phases.

Don't make homework a hassle.  Start with simple tools that require minimal effort, and as they get more engaged, you can slowly increase the sophistication and needed work.

TIP: This is a coaching session, so the less talking you do, the better.   Don't force uncomfortable silences; you can ask open questions and make suggestions, but if you find yourself yapping, stop.

Related Questions

What is a one on one meeting?  As a manager, you need to not only look after the team but also the individuals that make up the team.  One on one sessions are regular meetings you have with each individual in your team.  They can be conducted weekly or fortnightly and go from 30-60 minutes.

What is WOOP?  WOOP is similar to GROW and stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacles and Plan.  It allows one to not just think about what they want to accomplish but also what issues may arise and how they might solve them.  This mental preparation can help people complete their goals even when things get tricky.