5 Signs that the GROW model is not working for your client

27th April 2015
Why sticking to one coaching model reduces coaching effectiveness.

I ran a coaching development day last week for a group of manufacturing businesses. Manufacturing  has struggled for many years in getting a foothold with UK apprentices and graduates. To be invited to be part of something that could benefit local and national communities was an easy decision when replying.

The aim of the coaching development session was to introduce senior level manufacturers to ways of working with coaching on an individual and group level. The delegates, all experts in working with hard data and lean manufacturing would naturally take a critical position of the soft human relationship skills they were being introduced to.

The development session involved practicing and critiquing 4 coaching models within a coaching framework that supported the #1 factor for coaching success, the relationship or, as it is also called, the coaching dyad. All the delegates were asked to do was to maintain a curious and inquisitive position to anything that happened during the coaching sessions and to reflect on the experiences.

The coaching approaches demonstrated were;

1) The GROW model – A structured, normative coaching model that starts with the clients goals in mind and measures the gap between where they are, where they would like to be and the actions they need to take to get there.

2) Expand and contract – An interpretive approach involving the use of divergent and the convergent questioning to build a list of potentials and priorities with no goal or fixed outcome required.

3) Prosecution and defence – A critical approach that is suspicious of all the client holds as ‘true’. It challenges assumptions and encourages alternative perspectives by reducing what unhelpful beliefs the client holds onto.

4) The coaching ‘story’. A post modern approach of treating the coaching session as a story telling exercise. There are no fixed rules and the coach facilitates  a widening of the story, especially the use of metaphor. The use of metaphor has been shown to increase the likelihood of an emotional connection which leads to personal insights.

In the final session the group was asked to break out into pairs to run their own coaching sessions. They could choose any of the approaches within any coaching discourse as chosen by the client. After this the sessions were reviewed and feedback was given.

So what did these manufacturers choose? It would seem that GROW would be an obvious choice for them as it most accurately represents a process. A linear A-B which they would be familiar  and comfortable with. The responses were interesting. Of the 14 manufacturers, 2 chose to work with GROW, the remaining 12 took a more interpretive and critical combination of the approaches demonstrated.Their reasons used forms of language for ‘creating a space that encourages expression, insight and understanding.’ So why a reluctance to use GROW? It could be that the model was not demonstrated well enough, but this feedback does make some valid points.

1) Starting with goals assumes that the client knows where they are starting from. Its like being given a map with an ‘X’ marking the treasure, yet there is no idea where they are on the map.

2) There is little in the way of critical suspicion. There is a flaw in following a process that does not allow itself to be critiqued. Why start with Goals? What is the definition of reality?

3) Working rigidly within a single model seems a little contrived. It runs out of steam quickly thus reducing the relationship.

4) It  constrains thinking, there is little room for interpretation.

5) The interpretive approaches provide a more comfortable setting in which to explore the clients needs. They seemed to gain insight rather than focusing on outcomes.

Whatever coaching approach you take, its important to understand the limitations of all coaching models and to know when its time to change tack. Does the GROW model run the session or does the coach? If there is not a curiosity in answering this question coaching sessions can end up lost.

This coaching development day does confirm the research that a single model has limitations for coaching effectiveness. That holding a coaching frame is difficult when working with one model, so taking a responsive and flexible approach that understands the shifting sands of a coaching session is more effective. It also shows  by holding an inquisitive position the coach can shift models within a coaching frame that meets the  softer human need to be part of a successful relationship.


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