My children attend a Montessori school. I have to admit that we didn’t know much about it when we first enrolled them there except that the classrooms were open, children could work on what they want, when they want, and that the woman who founded the method was Maria Montessori.
What we learned, though, is that Montessori was developed as a system to teach institutionalized children life skills starting with grooming, cleaning etc., and proceeding to reading and writing. Montessori then took the system out of the institution and taught developmentally-able, but underprivileged, children similar skills. In a Montessori classroom the child learns through doing, and is free to explore the class room and its activities as he or she sees fit. The teacher guides them and there are steps to each of the activities. There is a right way and a wrong to do things, but by making mistakes the child develops necessary life skills.
I attended two classes with my two Montessori-attending children last week and I started thinking how the best agency processes mirror their classrooms. I’ve been around agencies a long time and almost from the day I started everybody within the organization fretted about “process process process.” Sometimes, there was no process and chaos ensued. Other times process was a thick manual, or required regimented, and required, online classes and chaos ensued.
The best processes evolved organically from within teams from the individuals themselves and as a result suited the personalities and working styles of the team. This is not to say that there was no process, there was. It just was not the be all and the end all — the work and the people doing the work were. A framework — cogent, clear and consistently applied — was in place, as in a Montessori classroom — but team members were permitted to work in their own way to reach the goal, within defined parameters. Adults, like children, will perform when given an environment in which their individuality (their humanity, really) is respected and neither forced to conform to some mathematical model of efficiency, nor allowed to wallow in anarchy. Provide a framework, set expectations, be consistent in them, permit people to be people, and wondrous things happen.