Tag Archives: Teams

How to get going with Microsoft Teams – Hints and Tips

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. Teams

Enjoy…

Microsoft Teams

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.Teams

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.

For example:

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.

 

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Office 365 collaboration – somewhere between easy and hard

The Microsoft Story around Collaboration Has Never Been a Straightforward One, with Different Styles of Collaboration from Email, through Skype and into SharePoint Each Being Supported by Their Own Microsoft Technical Team; at Times It’s definitely felt like the different teams compete rather than collaborate (and the irony is not lost on us).

With the emergence and massive growth of Office 365 the tale now has some additional subplots  in the form of OneDrive for Business, Office 365 Groups, Microsoft Teams and the still relevant  SharePoint Online. It’s not easy to unpick these different offerings and decide which to use where, especially as they share a lot of the underlying technology as each other.

Here are my summarised thoughts:

  1. OneDrive For Business
    • Think of this as effectively a file server in the cloud, but note that the assumption is that each person has their own area. With most Office 365 plans you get  1 TB of storage per person, which is a serious amount traditional  storage for your organisation. However it’s not the same as using a file server; best practice is to create a set of high-level folders within each person’s OneDrive: Personal, Team, Everyone In The Organisation, and External content. Share access of the last three appropriately. It is possible to have an admin or super user who can set their account up to provide something equivalent to departmental shares. It probably only takes a couple of days effort to implement this for a small organisation and that includes training and structuring the folders.
  2. Microsoft Teams
    • This is  both a browser-based and desktop application, which uses the Office 365 services on the backend. It’s described as conversation-centric collaboration (https://products.office.com/en-GB/Microsoft Teams/group-chat-software ); the front-end uses the chat capabilities of Skype for Business to provide the conversation element, though does have the ability to share files etc. and  includes OneNote  (you can also add other apps). The ability to configure it according to different needs is limited and there is no concept of an organisational hierarchy. It’s great for near real-time collaboration, discussion with team documents, but not so great for creating an organisational file store. Set up effort is also just a few days.
  3. Office 365 Groups
    • These are recently updated and provide email-centric collaboration, though with both simple file sharing and a full SharePoint site on the backend for each team or group (the language is starting to get difficult now, I’ll use uppercase when I’m in the product and lowercase when I don’t). ThUser experiences a bit of a mess  in that  the interface varies according to where you try to access Groups from – Outlook, Yammer, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint all provide access but the UI is different in each case). As with Microsoft Teams, there is no organisational hierarchy. Office 365 Groups are good for team collaboration and ongoing projects; also because the file store is actually in SharePoint, it does allow customisation so that libraries can have additional metadata and the full power of SharePoint; you can also create additional libraries within each Group;  however these are only  visible when you step into the SharePoint view of the Group,  not in this simplified view in Outlook etc. Our suggestion to make this really work for bigger organisations is to combine it with Cloud2’s Connect product, which will provide the hierarchy and a powerful entry portal. Individual Groups are very easy to set up, but there  is always some effort required to train users, determine best practice and extend some of the Group sites to meet organisational needs.
  4. SharePoint intranet
    • SharePoint is a huge application, highly suited for enterprise needs and with a massive range of capability to support collaboration, content management, communication, business processes and people. However this comes with complexity and the need to configure everything before it is effective (which is why Microsoft have introduced the previous three items). It will pretty much do everything that an organisation needs but a typical SharePoint Project in the corporate world takes upwards of 100 days of services. Even with digital workspace accelerators,  such as Hadron, the effort is still around 30 days, though these tend to incorporate other parts of the O365 stack such as Yammer and Skype for business. Where SharePoint really shines is for organisations with complex process needs , a requirement to govern some types of content and where the organisation itself is sophisticated with  a large amount of structure and enterprise level business needs.

 

    Clearly this isn’t a one size fits all situation and is unlikely at any one of the above will answer all the collaboration and content needs of an organisation. The right thing to do is to mix and match the technologies in the Office 365 suite in a way that suits your organisation, your strategy and budget. Whatever you do, research the tools and think hard before jumping in.

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Teams vs. Groups – Microsoft moves their vision forward a few more steps

Office 365 continues to develop, and it seems like something changes more or less every fortnight. This isn’t a bad thing, as long as Microsoft continue to make reasonable business decisions about the features and functionality; though the pace of change continues to present some challenges for partners and users alike.

One of the most recent announcements is the release of Microsoft Teams, an apparently new component in Office 365. Actually, not quite so new as this looks an awful lot like the immediate successor to Groups.

Groups was always a little odd; it started out as exactly that, pretty much a permissions group on to which Microsoft then tagged some collaborative functionality, initially as a shallow end alternative to a SharePoint collaboration or team site; this has evolved over a few iterations to now usefully include Skype-based group Conversations, Files (actually a SharePoint library, but with limited customisability), Calendar, OneNote Notebook (we really approve of that), Planner (their Trello competitor) and a related SharePoint Site. However, the Groups strategy was clearly work in progress. For example they got as far as introducing them into the Outlook online client and OneDrive for Business, though not really into SharePoint, which was odd. There are mobile apps, but no Group tile in the O365 App Launcher. Jeff Teper shared some of this thinking early in 2016 and indicated that there would be a change that would see Groups becoming Teams, removing the confusion between permissions groups and collaborative sites. It’s good to see this come to fruition.

Microsoft are describing it as an entirely new experience…

With the introduction of Microsoft Teams, Office 365 now has mail, social, and chat connections to SharePoint and OneDrive. When you create a team, you create or connect to an existing Office 365 group, and the group gets a SharePoint team site.

msteams

It is worth reading Dan Holmes pleasantly marketing-spin-free  description.

So with the imminent launch of Microsoft Teams (it is currently in preview) there have already been some changes. Groups appears to have disappeared from most places and Microsoft continue to tweak the positioning against full-blown SharePoint Online.

Microsoft Teams is available in preview to eligible Office 365 commercial customers beginning November 2, 2016. We expect the service to become generally available in the first quarter of calendar year 2017.

There have been some immediate refinements to the Office365 offering plans:

  • Business Essentials  explicitly  references  including Teams,  with no mention of SharePoint
  • Enterprise plans such as E1 take business essentials and adds SharePoint Online, Delve, Video Portal, Skype Broadcast, without the 300 user limit.

It’s not yet clear whether Business Essentials no longer includes SharePoint at all or whether it simply hidden away as being perceived as too complicated for simpler use cases. Whether you agree with that or not, is likely that Teams are here to stay for a while and they do provide a simpler means of creating a rich collaboration and team site than ever before.

 

 

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