Why GROW is a simple and effective problem solving tool

GROW was influenced by the Inner Game method developed by Timothy Gallwey.[1] Gallwey was a tennis coach who noticed that he could often see what a player was doing incorrectly but that simply telling her what she should be doing did not bring about lasting change.

The parallel between Gallwey's Inner Game method and the GROW method can be illustrated by the example of a player who does not keep his or her eye on the ball. Some coaches might give instructions such as: 'Keep your eye on the ball' to try to correct this. The problem with this sort of instruction is that a player will be able to follow it for a short while but may be unable to keep it in the front of his or her mind in the long term. So, one day, instead of giving an instruction, Gallwey asked the player to say 'bounce' out loud when the ball bounced and 'hit' out loud when she hit it.

The result was that the players started to improve without a lot of effort because they were keeping their eye on the ball. But because of the way the instruction was given, they did not have a voice in their heads saying 'I must keep my eye on the ball.' Instead, they were playing a simple game while they were playing tennis. Once Gallwey saw how play could be improved in this way, he stopped giving instructions and started asking questions that would help the player discover for herself what worked and what needed to change. This was the birth of the Inner Game method.

The GROW method is similar[2]. For example, the first stage in this process would be to set a target, which the player wants to achieve. If a player wanted to improve her first serve Gallwey would ask how many first serves out of ten she would like to get in. This is the Goal. The Reality would be defined by asking the player to serve 10 balls and seeing how many first serves went in.

Gallwey would then ask awareness-raising questions such as 'What do you notice you are doing differently when the ball goes in or out?' This would enable the player to discover for herself what was changing about her mind and body when the serve went in or out. She had then defined her Obstacles and Options. She therefore learned for herself what she had to change in order to meet her serving targets and she had a clear Way Forward.

The originators of both the Inner Game method and the GROW method suggested that many individuals were struggling to achieve goals because they were not learning from experience and were not aware of the available knowledge that would help them.

The great thing about the GROW coaching model is that it can be used for every day problem solving.

For example,

The G is for Goal as the problem you need to solve:

            “We have to find a replacement venue for our conference”

The key is spending time with your team or with another person to make sure that the problem is very clearly defined and that you all agree that this is the most significant problem that has to be solved here and now.

The R is for Current Reality.

Describe, factually, what the current reality is. This is about fact not hearsay or assumptions. Describe as succinctly as possible what the real situation is, what has caused it, what is the impact and why it needs to be addressed.

            “The venue has been over booked”

            “Our conference has been over subscribed”

            “We did not expect the level of sign up we have achieved”

            “If we do not have the right venue that seats 2,000 people we will not be able to deliver our goals etc.…”

The O is for option development.

Explore and write down as many ideas as possible as to what can be done to solve the problem and shift the current reality to something more positive.

            “ We can relocate the conference to another venue close by”

            “We can change the dates”

            “We can spread the conference over two days”

            “ We can pay more for a bigger facility at the same venue”

There could be many possible options, and the key is to consider what can be done, what have you tried before, what went well and what could you do differently?

The W if for what you will commit to.

This is where you end up agreeing what action you will take, by when and who will be accountable for delivering the action/s.

            “Alice will contact the venue to book the bigger room by 5.00pm on Tuesday”

            “John will review the venue booking process by 31st October and recommend improvements”

It is important that you and your team hold each other account for the solutions and then go back full circle to make sure the goal has been achieved.


David Ramsey

Ramseyhouse Consulting


[1] The GROW technique has its origins in sports coaches who have been influenced by Tim Gallwey's book The Inner Game of Tennis (1974). The technique relies heavily on using skilful questions and following a clear structure.' (Parsloe & Wray 2000, p. 67)


[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GROW_model