Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // To The Point // 3TP3

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Meeting This Decade's Team Challenges


Judy Yates
County Extension Director
Pinellas County
Largo, Florida

Extension originated and has existed for more than 75 years by meeting needs of local clientele. Lines and barriers have served Extension well, in the past. Were we just lucky, or have times changed? Some needs can be addressed with a specialized single expertise, but most are growing more complex every day. I'm most impressed with Boone's "crossing lines" ideas as a forward-thinking approach to the challenges of the new decade.

Competing and complementing organizations no longer accept or recognize our boundaries, and that's not necessarily bad. Barriers and lines lock people in or out; they take away flexibility. Without flexibility, it's hard to change, be creative, or responsive to new issues. Problems and needs don't normally fit within nice, neat lines. They have fuzzy edges, often so unclear we don't know how far they reach until we explore their limits. If we, as Extensionists, decide to work only within traditional boundaries where we feel safe and capable, then two unfortunate things are likely to follow:

  1. We'll never realize our full potential as professionals and as an organization.

  2. Even worse, an organization more daring than Extension will accept the challenge and, in turn, become as necessary and needed as Extension has been throughout its history. The new organization will be funded; Extension won't.


Issues can be most effectively addressed through programming that crosses lines. This will require teamwork. Environmental issues (water quality and quantity, solid waste reduction, and pesticide contamination) and the economic and social needs of individuals and families can't be reduced to compartmentalized disciplines. Teamwork can be encouraged by recognizing the training and motivational needs of staff. Boone's ideas for developing Extension competencies are well-conceptualized and, in general, on target. It will take training in new methods and disciplines. New thoughts on performance appraisal systems will be required. Still, the ultimate end must be new attitudes.

I agree that we need to redefine our roles, job groups, and relationships through cooperation and collaboration. We're not alone in trying to solve clientele's problems, nor are we alone in the search for the funds to do this. Using networks and cooperators, we can increase our strength, efficiency, effectiveness, and, hopefully, funding. It might seem contradictory, but this can actually decrease demands on individual professionals.

Another way of encouraging the crossing of barriers can be to search out different competencies, characteristics, and experiences when hiring new employees. Along with changing old habits, we must start with good established ones. Then we can develop and promote these professionals through the ranks, getting innovative team players to the top levels of administration where they, in turn, set examples and provide leadership to new, emerging Extensionists.