How to manage a team with coaching

Going through different Team lead/Head of Design job ads lately, I see, almost as a rule, coaching as a skill that everyone wants to see in a new Design leader.

These companies don’t ask you to be a certified coach – good if you are – but they still want you to coach your team members. Smart companies know that coaching leadership style is important because it’s future and goal-oriented. By using coaching approaches, we can actively:

  • support goal-oriented people development
  • improve communication
  • increase engagement
  • empower better problem-solving
  • increase goal achievement
  • encourage collaboration

But how do we do that? One approach you can use in your 1-2-1 sessions is the GROW model – a coaching and mentoring framework. It is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, and Way forward and offers you an easy-to-follow structure of a coaching-oriented meeting.

Below is my approach to using GROW in 1-2-1 sessions. I’ve used it mostly when the team members came to me with either a problem or a wish to grow, but I also intend to use it in the future to make 360 feedback sessions more useful and actionable.

In a work setting, I find it useful to give everyone a short introduction to these sessions. You can explain to your team that you would like to try to make 1-2-1s more impactful by using the GROW model, quickly explaining what it is, and encouraging them to bring their topics to these sessions. You don’t have to use GROW in every one of your 1-2-1 sessions with your team but rather when they are needed. For example, you can use it for:

  • problems that need to be solved (brought on by you or them)
  • quarterly goals
  • career progression goals like improvements in soft or hard skills
  • 360 feedback sessions
  • team sessions

To run a session using GROW model, reserve between 30 to 60 min. Start the session with a bit of small talk to help people relax a bit into it. Ready to go?


Start by focusing on the goal of the session. What does the person want to achieve? As a manager, you may also need to bring your goal for the employee to a session. As a designer, don’t be happy too quickly in this part. We know that seeing a problem and going straight into solving it might take us away from the deeper problem. Make sure that the goal you’re focusing on is the REAL PROBLEM you should focus on.

Some questions that can help you go deep are:

  • What do you focus on today?
  • What is the goal you want to reach today?
  • What motivates you to reach this goal?
  • How will a situation change if you reach this goal?
  • What will the benefits (maybe downsides) be when you’ve reached this goal?
  • What makes you think this is the real challenge?

Once you have a good idea of what you want to talk about, which problem you want to solve, and how you will know that you’ve got a good idea or solution, it’s time to move to the next stage.


In the reality stage, you can explore the current situation with your employee. People often come to these focused sessions with insights or approaches they’ve already tried. Tap into that. See what they’ve already tried in similar situations in the past that worked or things concerning the problem at hand that didn’t work.

Some questions. that you bring up at this stage:

  • How do you feel about this goal/situation?
  • What have you already tried to solve this?
  • What is holding you back?
  • What factors (internal or external) affect this problem/situation?
  • What have you done in a similar situation in the past that worked well?

Once you understand the reality of the problem, goal, or situation, it’s time for ideation. We don’t want to linger in this stage too long, especially if an employee brings to a session a problem.


This is the ideation stage. As designers, we are strongest in creativity around problem-solving. Let’s fully tap into this superpower and bring any and all ideas to the table. Good ideas, bad ideas, trash ideas, 10x ideas…

Questions to help you navigate this stage:

  • How can you reach your desired goal?
  • What is the easiest solution that comes to mind?
  • What is the one thing that you know will never work?
  • What is the most sustainable solution?
  • What risks are involved with these solutions?
  • What are the pros and cons of the solutions you came up with?

Ideally, at this time, you have a list of solutions that they’ve evaluated at least a bit. What will work and what won’t and why. Some people are cautious about ideation in front of their manager, especially when you ask them to ideate on stupid ideas. For this stage to be truly impactful, it’s important to have a good rapport and high psychological safety. Be mindful of this when you go into GROW conversation.


Now it’s time to converge and choose ideas that the employee will take forward. It’s also a good time to check in with your original goal, making sure they’re selecting the most impactful ideas. This is also a time when we get to play devil’s advocate and make sure that nothing can stand in the way of success.

Helpful questions during this stage:

  • How will you implement these ideas?
  • What can prevent you from succeeding?
  • How committed are you to making this work?
  • When will you take the first step in resolving the situation/problem?
  • What concrete steps will you take?
  • What support do you need from others to succeed?
  • How will you know you’ve succeeded?

Ideally, at the end of the session, they have very concrete steps that are measurable (one way or another). That way, you two can come back to them in the next session and see where there was a success and where an opportunity to learn and grow.

A few considerations

  • As mentioned before, for the GROW method to work, you must establish good rapport and foster psychological safety in the team, or the employees won’t go deep enough.
  • During GROW sessions, the focus is on the employee and not you. You should take your ego out and try not to comment and guide the conversation. It’s easiest to approach it with lots of curiosity and let yourself be surprised by what they bring to the conversation.
  • Practice active listening. That, together with curiosity, will help you ask better and more impactful questions.

I hope this is enough information for you to go into these sessions and see how they work for you and your team. Let me know if you have questions or comments. I’d love to make it even more useful for you.

Good luck!


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