Microsoft Teams wraps SharePoint in a collaborative UI. In its most simple form, Teams offers file management, conversations, and communications, along with a framework for integrating other features related to the work being done in the Team.
Teams represent the governing structure. Channels within a Team are where the real work takes place.
Many organizations continue to struggle with collaboration technology. This struggle arises most often from a lack of time allowed for people to not only work but to figure out how to work together. The time issue becomes exacerbated by the plethora of collaboration tool choices.
1. Accept the Organic Nature of Teams
Teams leveraging Microsoft Teams evolve. The creation of a Teams workspace can involve planning, initial structures, policies, and directions. The process performs best, however, when loosely coupled with directives. Too much structure and the Teams devolve into repositories of work done elsewhere rather than thriving hubs of discussion and innovation. The organic nature of teams does mean that it is easy to completely duplicate or more often overlap, the purpose for a team. Those overlaps can be managed through awareness and education, along with good practice in describing teams and actively involving people early through initiations rather than discovery. People are less likely to duplicate a team they belong to. When duplication does occur, Microsoft facilitates the migration of content between teams (though not conversations, so context will be lost).
2. Leverage Microsoft learning assets
In the age of jump in without reading a manual (but perhaps being informed when hitting an obstacle by watching a video) go to Microsoft’s learning assets to get a sense of what Teams is all about, and how to use it. Microsoft offers technical and deployment guidance.
3. Organize your files in Microsoft Teams
For the most part, those using Microsoft Teams should accept the default general file storage associated with Teams, the location for the content shared in conversations, and note muck with it. That content is indexed, can be seen in conversational context and can be easily edited in situ or inside a desktop app.
Some projects and functions, however, require a more structured approach to their content. A team planning a go-to-market (GTM) for a new product might want to create folders that mimic its content bill of materials. For the GTM team, some documents may be appropriate in the general channel, but most of the content may be driven off checklists on a physical or virtual board. Managing file structures is easy within Teams, using the same folder metaphor as found in Windows. The user interface doesn’t work the same, but the concept is consistent. Teams folders can include nested folders. Any document uploaded or created within the file structure can easily be referenced in a conversation using “Browse Teams and Channels.”
Keep in mind that not everything needs to be a file. If you are working on a project checklist, consider a set of Planner cards instead. The cards in Planner also support their own checklists for nested activities. Those looking to document shared internal content, such as FAQs or travel policies, can do so in the included Wiki feature. The value of those approaches comes from one-click access. Unlike a Word document that requires opening a file, the Wiki and Planner documents sit at the top of the Teams structure.
The users of teams should familiarize themselves with the various ways contents can be represented in a Team. They should then select the right representation to support whatever work they are trying to accomplish.
4. Leverage integrations
Teams offers a wide variety of integrations based on the simple display of content from Office apps like Word and Excel, to Microsoft apps like Planner, aimed squarely at replacing Trello and other “boards” apps. A wide number of third parties also offer Teams integration including Adobe Creative Cloud, Hootsuite, and Intercom. In a nod to software development as the most likely area of collaborative overlap, Teams supports integration with tools like Bitbucket, GitHub, Jira Cloud, ScrumGenius, Zendesk, and even Trello and Wrike. Other business integrations bring common business app data into teams from sources like Salesforce and Constant Contact.
5. Develop naming conventions
Naming conventions always create challenges. Microsoft Teams face the same issues as seen in shared folders and file names. Individualized memory tricks that allow one person to remember what he or she named a file (as well as where it is stored) don’t scale. Naming conventions act as a construct for consensus reality. Policies that impose structure must be shared, internalized and ultimately practiced.
For Teams, policies should differentiate between departments, a project, a community or as a general portal. Some advocate for very terse names like “DepartmentProductDesign” or “ProjectERPMigration2019.” Beyond that, consider if spaces are allowed or not. Serious Insights would suggest that spaces make the names more readable.
Regardless of spaces or not, the above names imply a flipping of terms so that the concept comes first. The “New Satellite 601 Project” becomes “Project: New 601 Satellite.” People seeing the name will clearly know this is a project.
Departments could be titled: Department Art, Department Engineering, etc. This does introduce stilted language which may prove more confusing than the term Art Department because it doesn’t flow as common use. Other elements might include date, locations (for multi-state, multinational firms). Each organization will need to make its own choices. What is important is that they make the choices and then develop practices that enforce them through some structural or peer policing.
It is also important to keep in mind that Teams names are not just about being human-readable for discovery. Teams names also affect technical aspects of the implementation, such as the name of the underlying SharePoint site and the e-mail associated with the site. If people will regularly e-mail content to a team, a short but meaningful name will facilitate early interactions with the site (until Outlook memorizes the e-mail address). The use of email addresses also raises the differentiation issues, as Teams names too close to each other can create not only confusion, but miscommunication as people send content to the wrong place.
6. Avoid Teams duplication: Search before creating
The organic nature of Teams brings its biggest complaint: unruly site generation complete with the accompanying duplication of intent, content, and conversation. In order to avoid undo Teams proliferation:
Follow naming convention rules helps, but regardless of verbose names or highly constructed ones, the more teams created, the less likely people are to find an existing one before they just create a new one.
Ensure that all teams include good descriptions along with keywords so they can easily be found when people are searching for teams before creating them (also encourage searching, along with curtailing the usual false assumption that any idea for a team is the first time someone has thought of creating it)
Admins play a role in the duplication of Teams in that they can choose between making private Teams visible to search or not. In highly secure environments keeping teams private may be imperative, but in most situations exposing at least the existence of a team will help avoid duplication. If a person really needs access to a private team, he or she can request access to a team rather than create a new one.
Early on in deployment, organizations would benefit by creating some high-level teams as containers for various common, cross-function work, as well as major projects and products.
Another key to duplication is to think about abstraction. Those looking to create a Teams environment should ask first if their topic is better served as a channel within a team, or as a team itself. Early on in deployment, organizations would benefit by creating some high-level teams as containers for various common, cross-function work, as well as major projects and products. This will give people a sense that much of the organization’s needs are already serviced through one of those teams. If not, then perhaps a new team is warranted.
7. Keep SharePoint options open
With Team sitting above SharePoint, organizations should consider keeping their SharePoint options open should they want to access the underlying content organization, or create more sophisticated workflows. Include, for instance, a link to the Team in the SharePoint Quick Launch list.
For long-time SharePoint users, keep in mind that Teams create groups. If groups already exist, consider using a SharePoint group as the launching point for a Team.
a number of people or animals who do something together as a group.
used in a number of phrases that refer to people working together as a group in order to achieve something.
also used to refer to a group of people who support a particular person or a particular point of view.
Teams accommodate all of these modes of work and collaboration.
For many organizations, the term “team” brings with it some conceptual baggage. Some organizations look at a Team as a relational structure, not as a term associated with getting work done. Some designate teams for any work not related to core products or services. Some refer to every working group in a company as a team. Teams, the Microsoft product, represents a completely horizontal communication and content platform. The product supports any definition of a team, or any functional structure an organization may choose for accomplishing its goals. Organizations need to define the relationship between their definition of a team, and how it is implemented in Microsoft’s product.
9. Use Teams as a community
Organizations that deploy Teams should embrace it wholeheartedly. It makes little sense to think of Teams as the place for work and a tool like Facebook Workplace as a more communal environment. Teams supports fun posts including pictures, general information sharing or other less productive activities just as easily as Workplace. Using Teams to offer a single interface to most of an organization’s work, community interactions and information helps reduce the already deeply fragmented attention of employees.
10. Avoid implementing competing products
This admonition is not acquiescence to Microsoft’s strategic goal, which is to displace the likes of Slack and Trello. Microsoft Teams aims squarely at those products, and if organizations continue to use more than one, they do a disservice to all, despite integrations. Slack and Teams offer different communications models, so adopting just one reduces communications friction. The same can be said for tools like Facebook’s Workplace.
In organizations with more than one platform, people need to spend time translating between modes of communication and channels. The use of a single product also consolidates file management, information discovery, search, collaboration, and other activities that end up fragmented in multiple product installations. Pick one, learn it, leverage its features and it will become part of the language and movement of work. Keep competing products around and the inefficiency of interfaces becomes the story rather than the overall increase in productivity.
Additional advice for small and medium businesses
Many small and medium businesses face limited resources when it comes to IT support. Microsoft recognizes this and offers a package of templates including HR, a company-wide portal, executive communications with a private channel and departmental template. Templates can be found here.
What can Microsoft do to make Teams better?
In the pre-Office 365 days, customers of Teams would still be hamstrung by early versions that were often difficult to use and missed key features found in competitive products. The rapid development of Teams has resulted in a product that continuously improves and now sits on par with the competitors. The sweeping replacement of Skype for Business with Teams was a strategic triumph as well as a solid technical move. With Skype for Business, much of the sales cycle focused on the replacement of traditional telephony switches and systems. With Teams, the integration of voice becomes integral as A channel among integrated collaboration channels.
Microsoft still has some work to do in the area of feature parity between Windows desktop clients and mobile apps, and between Windows and macOS versions of the product. We won’t list disparities as it constantly evolves against Microsoft’s releases. Ideally, Microsoft will move toward fully common clients and features across all platforms to avoid confusion, though the Windows client will likely to continue to lead as it often does in other products. The move toward making Macintosh software more Apple-like (as with core Microsoft Office products) may also result in some differences in approach to implementation, even for shared features.
There is also a need for Teams to adopt more of a metadata approach to descriptions, be this derived from the content stored in the Team by machine learning (ML), or by adding additional fields for Team set up. Serious Insights advocates a blended approach in which initial team set-up offers additional, user-configurable metadata fields that would, for instance, include department, team or project as explicit tags, along with room for other categories that could act as search hashtags. Office documents include a wide range of metadata for discovery and control, so too should the collaborative spaces they inhabit. Search filters could for instance allow people to seek only project teams, ignoring other designations and simplifying the query results.
For more on Teams from Serious Insights click here.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.