Structure your Coaching with the Vital Questions Framework

Vital Questions

The Vital Questions Framework is a simple, clear but extremely powerful means of structuring coaching sessions. It consists of a two by two matrix which looks at the task and the people aspects of any situation and then further divides the areas into those that are external to the person and those that are internal.

The Vital Questions is a tool to highlight people’s personal preferences, to overview their career development and the way they manage challenges. It can also be used to look at Team and Organisational cultures. This framework is extremely versatile and allows you as a coach to broaden your perspective and ask questions that cover all areas of a person’s experience.

Description of the Vital Questions Framework


As mentioned it consists of a two by two matrix with task and people on a horizontal axis and then a vertical axis with an external to the person and an internal to the person dimension. This gives four areas. So when looking at any issue the key areas are:

External Task:

In what environment are you? What is happening here? Highlight the good things and what need to be changed. You are facing the tangible solid world of deliverables, location, and actions.

External People:

This is an area that is often neglected especially in terms of career or work issues. It’s about the relationships the person has and the support or challenge they get. What are the quality of relationships they have? Who are the people that are causing difficulty? And again, what can they do about it?

Internal Task:

Which skills or competencies the person has? What are its strengths? Which areas has to be developed in order to resolve challenges?

Internal People:

This is about the subjective mindset that people have. It is about their motivation and values, their beliefs and their aspirations.

So the Vital Questions framework can be used to provide a holistic approach to career coaching and personal growth by examining all parts of a person’s world.

What benefits can be expected from the Vital Questions Framework?

 During a coaching session the Vital Questions Framework enables you to:

  • Look at all the aspects of the issue or problem the person is bringing to you
  • Enable them to look at their issue from many different perspectives
  • Develop a more strategic and focused set of actions to resolve the issue. This may well include areas that have not been thought of because they are outside people’s preferences
  • Be more confident in the chosen outcomes
  • Develop a vision that covers all aspects of the person’s challenge

Using Vital Questions in coaching

Here are the steps to follow in a coaching session:


Get them to describe the specifics of the challenges making sure they look at:

  • The environment/circumstances/resources/demands.
  • The significant stakeholders in the situation and their views.
  • Their own values and perceptions/assumptions of the challenge.
  • Their own skills and strengths in dealing with the challenge.
    These are the key areas of the Vital Questions

Define outcomes for each of the areas in the Vital Questions and then focus on the one key priority area 


Look at how all the areas influence each other and look at options for action to achieve the key priority action


Get them to commit to action acknowledging possible barriers but setting specific time frames and support.

As an example

Suppose the issue is a career issue of lack of rewards, whether financial or recognition at work. Looking at this through the lens of the Vital Questions you can explore

  • External Task: the reality of the job and comparisons to other types of work
  • External People: The relationships the person has at work
  • Internal Task: Their skills and development needs
  • Internal People: Their mindset and confidence or motivation

It would take too long to go through all steps. The point is that all factors need to be taken into account. The solution could lie in any one of the areas. For example the person can:

  • External Task: change their job by leave or getting another role
  • External People: Talk to their manager and ask for more rewards
  • Internal Task: Becoming more skilled at what they are doing including focusing on what they do best
  • Internal People: Develop more confidence and overcome self sabotage

Using the Vital Questions provides a very rich and rewarding way to look at complexity and then to hone down to the more effective way forward.
This tool was developed by our partner Ralph Lewis who is a Leadership Development consultant and coach, co-founder of the UK Centre for Servant-Leadership and Programme Director at London Business School.

Interested in using the Vital Questions in your coaching practice ?

Check this exclusive kit , designed and written by Ralph Lewis, a real added value in your expertise.

(cc) Outilsducoach 2024, articles may be freely copied and distributed subject to mention and link to the original source.

Leave a Reply

Select your currency