Last month I blogged about my experience working with Google managers to build their coaching skills and overcome the barriers to coaching, based on the powerful testimony of their own words and the words of their coachees. Here I cover some of the pitfalls I have observed when they use the GROW model, and advise on how to overcome them through good practice.

Following the Rhythm of the GROW model

I usually advise managers to build up a bank of generic open questions to use, for each stage of the GROW model . As they become more experienced, they learn to craft questions based on what the coachee says, using some of the coachee’s own words. This is especially effective when their words have emotional content. Using these words in your next question takes your coachee deeper into the problem and closer to potential solutions.

The GROW model provides a structure to have at the back of your mind when coaching. It is a guide to what type of questions to ask at each stage. It makes logical sense, as it flows from: what’s the problem and where do you want to get to; to what have you done so far; what else could you do; what will you do. Another way of framing it in relation to problem-solving is:

• Where am I now?
• Where do I want to get to?
• How do I get there?

The Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

It has been a real privilege to be trusted to observe (via video recording) many coaching sessions between Google managers and their team members, and to give my feedback. I have noticed some recurring pitfalls. Here is my advice, together with some generic questions for each stage of the GROW model, though as noted above, the most effective questions are ones that come from what the coachee has just said.

1. Take time to clarify the Goal before discussing solutions

When a team member comes with problem, we tend to assume we understand the issue and what they want to achieve. This is often not the case, so it is worth spending some time asking “goal” questions, to establish what they want to achieve in relation to the problem.

When they have stated their goal, keep it in the front of your mind during the conversation. This helps to keep the discussion and the coachee on track. It also means you can ensure the goal is realistic – something they can have some impact and influence on. Sometimes the goal can be too big for one discussion, and it may be more effective to narrow it down to one aspect and come back to other aspects later.

Sample questions:

What would you like to achieve with this issue?
Where do you want to get to with this problem?
What would your ideal outcome be?
How will you know that you have achieved that goal?
How will you know the problem is solved?

2. Explore the Reality before rushing ahead to explore Options

Some managers automatically go into brainstorming mode, without first letting the coachee “ground” themselves by recalling the current reality – what has happened so far, who has been involved, what they have tried to resolve the issue, who the key stakeholders are, where the pressure is coming from etc. Taking time to do this enables the coachee to be fully present and immersed in the issues – an essential step before considering options for solutions.

Sample questions:

What is happening now?
What, who, when, how often?
What is the impact of that?
What have you tried so far?
Who else is affected by this issue?

3. Take time to explore all Options

Each of us seems to be pulled towards different areas of the GROW model – some managers ask a lot of Reality questions and fewer Options questions, while others do the opposite. In a coaching session your aim is to create a conversation which lifts your coachee to resolve the problem. You should ask several questions around Options. This will challenge them to think and to take new perspectives on the problem, leading to new potential solutions.
A simple question to ask is the AWE question – “and what else?”.

Sample questions:

What could you do to deal with this problem?
What else could you do?
What alternatives are there to that approach?
What if this or that constraint were removed?
How have other people dealt with similar problems?

4. Get a Will statement

During a coaching conversation the coachee usually identifies several possible courses of action. It is helpful to them if you ask them “Will” questions such as what they are going to do next, what their first action will be, what their plan is for implementing.

Sample questions:

What will you do now … and when?
What are the next steps you will take?
What could stop you moving forward?
How can you overcome any blockers?
What support do you need?

5. Focus on the coachee, not on the problem

This is the hardest part of all for managers new to coaching. When someone comes to us with a problem, we automatically start to think about the problem and what to do about it. However, the aim when coaching is to enable the coachee to think about the problem and come up with potential solutions to it that they can implement. We must focus on them, on what they say, and go where they take us.

Each question you ask as a coach comes from something the coachee has just said or done. As you become more experienced, you learn to use some of the coachee’s own words in your next question – a powerful technique that enables them to go deeper into the issue. You will also pick up on their body language and on things they are not saying, and you will learn to trust your senses.

The most effective thing we can do for our coachees is to listen fully to what they say and craft impactful open questions to enable them to gain insights and find a way forward.

Coaching is a powerful tool for harnessing the collective intelligence of everyone in your team. And nowadays – with the demands of hybrid working and the expectations of Gen Z – it’s a tool that you can’t do without.