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Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Models for Coaching

Having a structure to work with in coaching is helpful as long as it is not so restrictive that the client is not “seen”.  We need to fit the structure and theories to the client not the other way round.

GROW Model 

Whitmore’s GROW model is probably the first one that most people come across:

  • Goal – the contract
  • Reality – consideration of current realities and explore how these realities impact on the goals
  • Options – identify options and encourage solutions
  • Way forward – develop an action plan and encourage motivation.

This simple model tends to be remembered as it stands rather than the complexities about getting to the action plan.  There are many psychological issues that can stand in the way of these areas - including the issue of what “reality” is.

(see later in this paper for Mountain’s Eight-Step Coaching model)

Schmid (2008) discusses his Role model. This model explores the interaction between the various roles we undertake. These divide into the Organisational, Professional, and Private Worlds, that all go to make up the personality.  In our Organisational World we might be a business owner, in our Professional world a coach, and in our private world a single mother. Each of these roles will have an influence on our personality and how we express it. In each role we may have different ideas about how to structure relationships with other people. 

Those in executive positions within organisations have increasingly complex and diverse roles and some of these may conflict with each other. It is important that we, and those we coach, are able to manage this complexity and keep hold of our identity.

We bring our frames of reference to these different roles as do other people we interact with, making this a co-creative process. In order for us to communicate I need to be interested in the way you perceive reality and be willing to share my perceptions. Difficulties often occur in the workplace when people make assumptions about what others are thinking, believing and feeling. This is important because we tend to act on those assumptions and further reinforcements are then likely to occur. 

This links with Schmid’s work as well as Senge’s on the Ladder of Inference. Senge’s “ladder” reflects TA’s script system and how we all see the world through our eyes, rather than objectively. We then draw conclusions about the world as we see it, look for “evidence” about our assumptions, act on that “evidence” which is likely to further reinforce our beliefs about self, others and the world (the Racket System, Erskine and Zalcman (1979) -  subsequently renamed by Erskine as The Script System. Mountain calls this the Substitution System.

Schmid’s Venn diagram has the two individual’s Frames of Reference (F.O.R.) overlapping and in the overlap are 1, 2, 3, and 4, with 4 at the top:


4. shared understanding of responsibilities and  achievements
3. shared understanding of how things and people interact
2. shared understanding of how things and people interact
1. shared perspectives and facts to be taken into account.  


These different levels of shared F.O.R’s build-up into shared realities. When problems appear on level 4 they are usually due to a mismatch on the previous levels.                   

If you look at Senge’s work on the Ladder of Inference, the base position is:

    • Observable dates and experiences followed by:
    • Selection of data
    • Adding meaning based on cultural and personal


    • Making assumptions based on that meaning
    • Drawing conclusions
    • Adopting beliefs about the world
    • Taking actions based on those beliefs

Therefore, this is a reflexive process where our beliefs affect what data we select next time.  This is the same as the script system in TA.

As a coach it is helpful if we work with our clients on their underlying assumptions and beliefs as this will affect the way they experience the world and what action they therefore take.

Festinger, 1957, (in Peltier, 2001) discusses cognitive dissonance. This theory states that human beings have a need to experience themselves as consistent and be comfortable with their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and that these are congruent.  When they are not congruent then we will make our thinking congruent with any action we have taken.  For example, we may be aggressive with an employee whilst at the same time think that we are a nice person. In order to address this dissonance we are likely to say to ourselves that they deserved it.

As Transactional Analysts we would consider this as Integrating Adult ego state dystonic and have a range of different ways to enable to client to consider this. For example, we could explore life positions and the I+U- position and the client’s thoughts on the impact of this position on the employee. We might also look at transactions and the Behavioural modes model, etc.

The SCALABLE Model of Coaching 

1.     Start - Develop Relationship

Stage one is about creating the relationship - in, and through which, the work will be done. The development of the relationship is about establishing a connection with the person and establishing safety.

2.     Contract

Contracting can take place - for what the content of sessions will be, the outcome sought by the person, how the work will be conducted and what the respective responsibilities in the relationship will be. These contracts can be “hard” or “soft”.

3.     Alliance - Establish a Working Alliance

The working alliance means that an Integrating Adult to Integrating Adult ego state understanding has been established. A partnership of trust has been developed and questions around trust are waning.

4.     Life Beliefs

All our thinking, and hence our consequent behaviours, are underpinned by our beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. Very often these beliefs have become “tacit” i.e. they are unspoken, and outside of our awareness. This fourth stage in the coaching relationship consists of discovering and then examining these beliefs, many of which will have their origins in early childhood, when our ability to make judgements was limited and also based on limited information. This is not about undertaking regressive work but is about the client being able to reflect whilst remaining in the Accounting mode.  It is here that we can find out if, and how, the client is sabotaging their development.

5.     Accounting - Establish what is here and now

Having developed a greater understanding of the beliefs which underlie thoughts and behaviour, the coach helps the client to sift from their perceptions that which is historical and can be redecided and that which does truly lie in the present.

6.     Behaviour - Revise Beliefs and Change Behaviour

The client is now in a position to update their beliefs and change their behaviour.

7.     Learning

The client is now likely to need support to reinforce the learning they have made by contracting to test and practice new behaviours outside the coaching relationship.

8.     Ending

Evaluate client’s new position reflecting on the contract and outcomes. This needs to include meeting with all parties to the contract. Celebrate the client. Support the client to establish action plans for the future.

Note: The mnemonic SCALABLE is used because of its relevance to coaching. The contract needs to be “scalable” i.e. manageable, motivational, measurable. This appropriate in terms of size of the project/goal/behaviour, and over time.  An aid to the mnemonic might be to remember that we scale mountains!!

Scalable Table

In summary, the model is: 

Start – develop relationship

Contract – contract with all parties including how outcomes will be evaluated, confidentiality etc.

Alliance – develop the working alliance

Life Beliefs – enable the client to assess effect of beliefs

Accounting – dealing with the here-and-now, Mindful process, etc.

Behaviour – revised beliefs lead to new behaviours

Learning – new learning needs to be reinforced to ensure it is maintained

Ending – evaluation of the coaching process, client outcomes, and multi-party meeting. 

Just like the model of time and distance the coach and client are likely to move through this cycle during each session as well as over time. Also, the client may remain at one stage for more than one session and also return to a stage when something is difficult as the work is not always linear.  We need to follow the client, whilst at the same time holding the process.


Erskine, R.G. Zalcman, M.J. (1979) The Racket System: A Model for Racket Analysis TAJ, Volume 9 No 1

Festinger L. (1957), described in Peltier (2001)

Peltier B. (2001), The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application, Brunner-Routledge

Schmid B. (2008), The Role Concept of Transactional Analysis and the Other Approaches to Personality, Encounter, and Cocreativity for All Professional Fields, TAJ 38:1