Nemesis is an activity that addresses the limiting beliefs we have about people who we find challenging to work with.  Let’s face it, everyone has at least one person they find difficult to work with.

I first learned this at a Liberating Structures workshop put on by Nadine Doyle, Robyn Muretisch, and Nancy White. Nemesis is based on a Liberating Structure called Wicked Questions that can be used to help someone reframe a relationship that is a struggle.

I recently used this activity with a group of 60 senior leaders in the insurance industry to get them thinking differently about someone with whom they must work with, but find it very challenging to do so.


1. Give everyone a piece of blank paper (letter size).

2. Instruct them to divide the paper into four equal parts – a 4×4 matrix.

3. Ask them to identify one person with whom they find it challenging to work with. Say: “Think of a vital, yet problematic person you must work with.”

4. In the upper right-hand box, give them 1-2 minutes to list the qualities and attributes that they bring to this relationship.

team relationship

5. In the upper left-hand box, give them 1-2 minutes to list the qualities and attributes of the challenging person that are bothersome for them.

team mate attributes

6. In the lower left-hand box, ask them to write down how they believe the challenging person would view their own qualities and attributes.  (They probably see them as strengths not weaknesses.) 

find team attributes

7. Ask them to circle one of their own attributes and a positive attribute of the challenging person that they are most opposed too.

nemesis team attributes

8. Tell them to plug those attributes into the following sentence (in the lower right hand box):  How can we be both _____________  and ____________ at the same time?

people focus and savvy visionaries

9. Give them 1-2 minutes to independently think about the answer to that question.

10. Ask them to pair up and coach each other to see this person and the relationship from a more positive viewpoint.

11. Debrief as a large group:

  • What meaning can you draw from this exercise?
  • What new insights do you have about this challenging person?
  • How can you use this insight to work more effectively with this person?

Some common themes that may emerge are:

  • It’s important to empathize and see things from the other person’s perspectives.
  • While different styles may be frustrating, they can also balance each other out.
  • It’s important to be willing to flex and adjust to work well with others.
  • I am probably just as challenging for them as they have been for me

Feel free to adapt the question for your team or try this in a one-on-one coaching session.

About the Author: Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams and Forward, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field. Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are happy and high-performing.

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