Growing with GROW: Guiding the learning journey with the GROW model | Mentoring under Construction

MuC MeetUP #4 Growing with GROW [Francesco Gallarotti via unsplash]
MuC MeetUP #4 [Francesco Gallarotti via unsplash]

The content of this blog post has been created in the context of Mentoring under Construction. Mentoring under Construction is a community for mentoring practitioners within the European Solidarity Corps programme.

The GROW model provides a structured framework for coaching conversations and it is used to facilitate personal and professional development: With GROW you can help individuals clarify their objectives (goals), understand their current situation (reality), explore possibilities (options), and take effective action towards their goals (way forward).

GROW – Exploring possibilities, taking action

“I am able to control only that which I am aware of.
That which I am unaware of controls me.
Awareness empowers me.”

– John Whitmore

The GROW model helps to structure mentoring conversations with your volunteer(s). It was originally developed by Graham Alexander and John Whitmore’s (in the mid-80s), and became popular after John Whitmore’s publication “Coaching for Performance” in 1992.

GROW stands for: goal, (current) reality, options and will (or way forward). The model suggests a simple four-step process that enables you to support volunteers in setting goals and exploring possibilities to improve their project, to help them plan for and reach their learning objectives. In short, it can facilitate personal growth of volunteers in various areas.

Personal development and growth is like a journey. And a good way of looking at the GROW process is the planning of this journey: First, you decide where you would like to go (the goal). Then, in the second step, you establish where you are at the moment (your current reality) before you explore a variety of different routes to get to your destination (the options). Finally, you mobilise your energy and resources to start your journey and prepare for obstacles you may face during the journey (will or way forward).

The GROW model offers for each step a set of questions. The questions help raise awareness and encourages to take responsibility. Gaining awareness for the volunteers is about knowing more what is happening around them; raising self-awareness is about knowing what they are experiencing. Both lead to more responsibility for own actions and steps towards their goals.

The role of the mentor – the role of the volunteer

The GROW model supports learning through experience: reflection on experience, formulating insights, exploring options, making choices and taking action.

“The volunteers are experts on their own volunteering journey.
The mentor is the expert of the communication process.”

Mentor and volunteers have different roles:

  • The volunteer is active in identifying problems and generating ideas for solutions. S/he is an expert in his/her journey. S/he is in charge of making decisions and taking the next steps.
  • The mentor facilitates the process and helps the volunteer to choose the best options and the most effective steps. S/he is not an expert (of the specific learning journey of the volunteer). The mentor is guiding the volunteer through the four steps and asks questions.

It is very important for the volunteer to draw conclusions for him-/herself, and you should avoid giving recommendations and advice. On the other hand, you may be asked directly for your opinion and then you answer as an experienced traveller. However, regardless of the extent to which you actively engage, it is the volunteer who retains the ownership of his/her development and growth.

First things first: Seeking the support of a mentor

Mentoring/coaching begins, if there is a question…

What issues, problems and challenges bring volunteers to their mentors? What are they struggling with? Take a moment and answer the following questions:

  • With what do volunteers seek help/support?
  • What problems, challenges, etc. volunteers bring to your meetings?

Here is a small choice…

Volunteers Challenges {Screenshot Slides]
Volunteers Challenges {Screenshot Slides]

A question (or challenge) is the starting point for seeking support from you as a mentor. It is also the first question at the very beginning of the GROW framework.

The GROW framework

The GROW model suggests four steps:

Step 1: Establishing the goal
Step 2: Examining the reality
Step 3: Exploring the options
Step 4: Establishing the way forward

GROW Model “Youthpass Heart Corps. Guiding the learning Journey” HOP Online Learning Platform
GROW Model “Youthpass Heart Corps. Guiding the learning Journey” HOP Online Learning Platform

The presentation slides below introduce the GROW model and walk you through the GROW steps. Additionally to the four GROW steps you find two more stages:

  • An intro, which might include some small-talk or a short check-in on emotions. The intro is also the moment to agree on the goal for the meeting and the topic/challenge you will talk about.
  • A closing, which is about a short summary of the (three) next steps (including a time-line) and a date for the follow-up meeting.

Download the presentation: Growing with GROW

The GROW Model: Example questions

    Questions generate best awareness and responsibility.

    Example Questions for the GROW Model via

    The key to the GROW model is all about asking questions. For each of those steps, you have a selection of questions to choose from. It’s not about asking them one after the other, but to choose from them according to what is most helping the volunteer.

    Check out the sample questions on the website:

    Example Questions for the GROW Model

    “Questioning must be a spontaneous process. Questions prepared mentally before they are asked will disrupt the flow of the conversation and not follow the interest or agenda of the [volunteer].” John Whitmore, 1992, p.89

    RE-GROW: The follow-up meeting(s)

    Every journey holds a lot of surprises and challenges which make it necessary to change goals and continually redefine and adjust one’s actions.

    For this, Anthony Grant (2011) added two more steps to this journey and turned GROW into RE-GROW. He highlights the importance of reflecting on the process and achievements (review and evaluate).

    Once it is established in your first GROW meeting what actions the volunteer will take, you can start the next meeting with reviewing the process and outcomes of his/her actions.

    You may use the following questions for reflecting on what happened:

    • What has happened since we last met?
    • What did you do? Which steps did you take?
    • What did you manage to realise? What did you achieve?
    • How satisfied are your with …?
    • What worked out well? What didn’t work?
    • What would you have done differently?

    After the review and evaluation it is important to link those insights to the volunteer’s goals and – if necessary – adjust or redefine them. With these two steps you already start a new GROW process which will lead you to specifying a direction and a path for the volunteer’s journey.

    Growing with GROW: A guided mentoring/coaching process

    Self-coaching process with GROW

    On the website of you may find questions to go through a process of self-coaching: Self-coaching using the GROW

    Activity: Practising using the GROW model

    A great way to practice using the GROW model is to address your own issues and challenges. You can practice on your own, get yourself “unstuck” and learn how to ask the most helpful questions.

    • Choose an issue or challenge that you are facing.
    • Go through the GROW framework step by step.
    • Try out different questions and take notes of your answers.


    • How did you experience this process?
    • Which questions worked best for you?

    Finally, create a list of questions you would like to use in each step of the GROW framework.

    Guided-coaching process with GROW in a group

    During our MeetUP we went through the GROW steps in form of guided individual reflection process in a group. Check out the slides above (from slide 8 on!). After that, in groups of 2-3 participants, we reflected on:

    • How did you experience this process?
    • What went easy? What was difficult?
    • Which questions were especially helpful?

    A Practical Application: Supporting Learning with the GROW Framework

    You can also adjust the questions of the GROW model to focus on supporting the learning journey of your volunteer. The guiding questions for this you can download here: Supporting Learning. Useful questions for GROW Meetings

    Let’s go through the GROW Steps one-by-one:

    Step 1: Establishing the goal

    This is where you define what the learner wants to achieve: it could be a learning goal, a development goal, a problem to solve, a decision to make, etc.

    The goal is the journey’s destination, the point where the learner wants to get. This goal should be defined in such a way that it is clear to understand. It should be stretching but not unachievable. If it is, you can break it down into several goals.

    As a support person, you should be able to see the goal as if watching it in a film. If this is not the case, ask more questions.

    Step 2: Examining the reality

    At this stage, you help the learner to define where s/he is currently in relation to her/ his goal.
    The learner is invited to describe his/her current situation: what’s going on, how s/he is feeling, what the issues and challenges are, how s/he sees the situation, the context, the meaning of the situation, etc.

    This takes some time. Do not rush it. Let the learner think and reflect. Try to listen actively.
    You can point out skills, knowledge and resources that the learner has available and can take advantage of in reaching their goal.

    Step 3: Exploring the options

    Once the current reality is examined and both of you have a clear understanding of the situation, it’s time to look for possible solutions, that is all the possible options for reaching the learner’s goal.
    Help your learner brainstorm as many good options as possible. Let him/her offer suggestions first, and let him/her do most of the talking. Try to use questions starting with “suppose…” or “if…” to help your learner to put aside the censorship of the rational mind and unleash more creative ideas. Then, analyse and discuss these options and help him/her to decide on the best ones. Try to guide her in the right direction without actually making decisions for him/her.

    It might be useful to clarify what is stopping the learner from moving toward his/her goal. These obstacles can be internal, can be caused by other people, or they can be caused by a lack of resources (time, money, skills, information or support). You can list each obstacle separately and then create some ways around them: a temporary solution which could work, learning skills on how to deal with a certain obstacle, finding ways to activate resources, etc.

    Step 4: Establishing the way forward

    Coaches work with learners to identify specific steps and obstacles, write an action plan, and check for commitment.

    This is the last step in the GROW model. It is all about commitment and taking action.

    After setting a goal, examining the current reality and exploring the options, your learner will now have a good idea of how s/he can achieve his/her goal. It’s time to go on this journey and decide on the next steps: what is to be done, when and how. Each of the chosen options is taken into consideration and actions are created on their basis. Check what support the learner needs and offer your own support if necessary.

    The GROW model is a great tool to start with as a learning facilitator. Once you’ve gained some experience, you will automatically go beyond it: create your questions, adjust the steps to the learner’s needs and situation, etc.

    Activity: A GROW conversation

    Now it’s time to learn and practise in a real conversation. You may want to try it out first with your partner, a friend, a colleague or another mentor. Or do it right away together with your volunteer.

    1. Go back to the GROW model. Check your collection of useful questions. Choose these questions that you found the most helpful and which suit your style best.
    2. Create a script for your next meeting.
    3. Meet with your volunteer and try it out.

    The two most important things to practise here are: the ability to ask good questions and the ability to listen effectively. Listen actively and let your volunteer do most of the talking. Don’t jump to the next question in moments of silence. Silence provides valuable thinking time. Just wait or ask “What else comes to your mind?” or even just “What else?”


    • How did you prepare? Which questions did you choose for your script?
    • How did your volunteer experience this conversation?
    • Which questions helped him/her best? Which didn’t?
    • What would you do differently next time?

    7 Tips for your Mentoring Conversation with GROW

    • The quality of mentoring relates to the amount of awareness and responsibility it creates.
    • Use What-, When-, Where-, Who-Questions first
    • Avoid Why- and How-Questions
    • “What else?” is a good question to stimulates thinking deeper
    • Prepare questions and adjust them on the go
    • Give the other person time to think about the question
    • If one question blocks the other person’s thoughts, drop it or find a way around

    Recommended resources

    The GROW model, by Sir John Whitmore via

    Whitmore, Sir John (1992): Coaching for performance: GROWing human potential and purpose: the principles and practice of coaching and leadership. People skills for professionals (4th ed., 2009). Boston: Nicholas Brealey

    Alexander, Graham (2006): Behavioural coaching – the GROW model; in: Passmore, Jonathan. Excellence in coaching: the industry guide (2nd ed. 2010). London; Philadelphia: Kogan Page. pp. 83–93

    Is it time to REGROW the GROW model? Issues related to teaching coaching session structures (by Anthony M. Grant, 2011)

    Meant to be a Mentor. Workbook for EVS Mentors by Kimmig, Michael (2015); Foundation for the Development of the Education System / Fundacja Rozwoju Systemu Edukacji, Warsaw, Warszawa

    Youthpass Heart Corps. Guiding the learning journey | Online Course

    One to one. Supporting learning face to face by Monika Kėžaitė-Jakniūnienė and Mark Taylor (2018)

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