I have been spending plenty of time looking at the relatively new Microsoft Teams, as I try to decide where it fits within my company and how we would position it with our clients. It’s been an interesting journey as I have tried to unpick teh mess that MS has created around Teams vs. Groups vs. SharePoint. Great technology, risible product marketing.
This blog doesn’t seek to answer all these questions, but does share a dozen hints and tips I have aggregated over the last few weeks.
Microsoft Teams is a fairly recent addition to Office 365, pitched as the go-to collaboration and teamwork space. It has a straightforward set of features to help small, active teams work together and is focused on speed and agility rather than process and control.
As standard you get:
- Persistent real-time Team chat. This is a lot like instant messaging, except that everyone in the team takes part in the messages stay available. It’s great for small teams that need to interact throughout the day.
- File sharing. A shared library is built into the heart of each team for quick document storage and multi-author editing.
- Wiki. A very simple note taking area for quick notes.
- Application plug-ins. Teams makes it very easy to add a wide range of additional applications to the team space, including Microsoft Planner, GitHub, Survey Monkey and more.
Microsoft Teams runs in the browser, as a desktop application and on mobile devices
Is it a replacement for a full intranet? Absolutely not; it lacks almost all the depth, scope and flexibility that is needed for an effective intranet (for now); nor is that it’s intended purpose. What it does do well is fill a significant gap for team collaboration, where the needs are simple, the processes are minimal and users just need to get up and running really quickly with a shared space where they can chat, share basic files and pull in some additional functionality. However, I really like that it uses other Office 365 elements behind the scenes, which means it can act as the entry point for heavy weight collaboration when that becomes necessary.
To use it well needs some thought. To integrate it into a wider digital workplace approach requires quite a bit more planning, structure and guidance; see some of my earlier blogs.
Like all new applications, it has some limitations as well as some emerging best practice. So here are some hints and tips to help you with this.
1. Avoid duplication of Teams
Currently, Teams doesn’t check to see if another team with the same name or purpose has already been created. Creating a new Team is incredibly easy using self-service creation for Teams, which makes it even more important that users check to see whether an equivalent before setting up a Team.
2. Teams create Office 365 Groups and SharePoint Modern sites
Behind-the-scenes, whenever you create a team is also creates an Office 365 Group which contains all the members of the Team and provides group functionality within Microsoft Exchange for things like shared calendars. It also creates a SharePoint site, which includes the document library that holds the documents you see within Teams, along with other standard SharePoint functionality.
It’s worth understanding the relationship between the three elements: Teams, Groups and Sites and how you navigate between them when needed.
Also note that when you create a new Team it will ask if you want to connect it to an existing Group. If you have an existing group with the correct members and a strongly aligned purpose then we recommend you do this. otherwise a further Group will be created with the same name, but different ID.
3. Have a naming convention
The ease of creation of new Teams is also its weakness. New Teams can appear at an alarming rate and the management and administration tools are weak currently. We recommend defining some clear naming conventions and ensuring these are communicated and monitored.
For example: <Team, Project or Activity name> – <Owning Department>
The Admin Center does provide some control, for example it’s possible to block some words and define suffixes or prefixes to be applied to the name.
4. Set up channels with care
Channels help keep team conversations organised. Think of them as a workstream within each project or team activity. Everyone in the team has access to all the channels (though Microsoft are working on channel level security) and each channel has its own chat and file store (in reality this is a folder within the document library).
We recommend not creating many channels to begin with, adding them when it’s necessary to separate out streams of work or have different groups talking to each other.
5. Targeting chat
Because chat is available to everyone there needs to be a mechanism for ‘speaking’ to an individual in the team. Thankfully that’s easy; just put @Simon or whoever else you want to mention and they will get that specific message.
6. Extending document libraries
One of the strengths of Teams is that it has a full SharePoint Online document library in the background. The downside is that, while you can configure the library to do sophisticated things like version control, extended metadata, flows etc, the Files area in Teams doesn’t show any of this. You should step into SharePoint if you want to see/use that stuff.
Remembering the Teams is meant to be for simple collaboration, the advice is to avoid customising and extending the library to begin with. If needs emerge within the activity that need extra control then these should be assessed and the appropriate approach decided (which could include building out the SharePoint element of the Team).
7. Link to stuff
There is a straightforward way to add extra stuff to Teams, and that’s to add new tabs in each workplace by clicking the + symbol and choosing what you want. There are lots of extras, but some of the most useful are adding a SharePoint library from elsewhere in your intranet, or adding a web page. If you use Planner or a OneNote area etc. then you can add them too.
We suggest creating a tab all document libraries on the Team site and one to the connected Team site home page.
8. Keep track of your Teams
It’s easy to lose Teams – there is no central list that you can easily get at. Best practice is to register any new teams somewhere – we use our Hadron Connect for that and we add a link to related teams within department and team sites in the intranet.
9. Learn some of the power features
There are loads of things that can be done my typing a command in the chat area; it’s worth learning a few.
At the top of the Teams desktop app there is a search box. Type / or @ to get a list of the commands each of these can invoke.
type @news to enable news in your Teams. Then type @news and a subject in the Team workplace to get results
type /activity and choose a team mate to see their activity
type /call to start a voice call with a team mate
type /keys to Teams keyboard shortcuts
10. Keep a look out for new stuff
Microsoft is taking Microsoft Teams very seriously. They are adding new stuff regularly and we know it is intended to replace Skype for Business during 2018.
There is a quick way to find out what’s new and that’s to type /whatsnew – try it!
11. Don’t forget Bots
Teams comes with a T-Bot – an automated, basic chat bot for conversational question and answer AI about using Teams – built in. You can use it from the dedicated Chat area. You can also add additional, subject specific bots.