Most organizational research aims to reveal insight into how organizations can be successful. Historically, the focus of much of this research has been on performance and productivity in service to profit and stockholders in for profit enterprises. However, as operating environments have become increasingly competitive, with rapid adoption of technologies and their impact on it, research has widened its scope to include stakeholders, like people and planet, to understand organizational resilience in pursuit of sustainability. Because the cost of education and training has risen rapidly, the urgency to assess, design, develop, implement, and evaluate pedagogy has become vital for not only educational institutions but industry and government. Institutional urgency compels identification of the highest value paths of learning for quantifiable return on investment. Using a systems perspective, this analysis examines the role project teams can have in delivering learning outcomes that provide enduring value to these organizations and their stakeholders. When seen as learning systems, project teams provide an experiential learning approach for sustained, cumulative value.
The proposition of team systems theory is tri-fold. First, a model of project teams as complex adaptive social systems is explained based upon four principles of self-organization, hierarchy, emergence, and learning. Second, an analysis examines the value of project teams as learning systems mediated by action research with affinity toward cultivating communities of practice. Third, by leveraging learning of project teams they become a middle-out strategy for embedding a learning culture that develops adaptive capacity for organizational change and resilience. Project teams are appropriate for continuous improvement and organizational learning through development of communities of practice paired participative action research. This analysis of team systems theory delves into the co-created value of project teams in experiential and organizational learning in education, as well as its implications in wider contexts such as profit, nonprofit, governmental agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. Value can be measured in terms of the efficacy of knowledge networks, risk management, and innovation through mixed methods research. Value grows through formal reflection (e.g., formal debriefing conducted with appreciative inquiry as well as process evaluation) at individual member, team, and organizational levels. Team Systems Theory suggests that creating cultures of learning through progression of project teams toward communities of practice builds co-created value and adaptive capacity. Implications of Team Systems Theory include potential for process improvement and enhanced performance through networked knowledge sharing, as well as increased leadership effectiveness through augmented agility and risk management stemming from organizational change generated from the middle out resulting in organization resilience and sustainability.