Microsoft (MS) Teams is now used by many organizations as the preferred collaboration tool. This comes as no surprise, of course, as the app was specifically developed for hybrid work, making it a perfect fit in a time when employees from different (work) groups increasingly work from various places and at varying times – i.e. asynchronously.
The tool can be used to share files, and to collaborate productively on documents without having to email them back and forth. In addition, it can be used as a business telephone exchange, and offers chat and video conference functionality. This promotes communication and collaboration within departments and project or working groups, both for ad hoc projects and long-term alliances.
As MS Teams is fully integrated within Microsoft 365, it connects seamlessly with other commonly used applications, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
But with a tool as accessible and easy to use as MS Teams, there is a risk of losing control. Or in this case: the risk of myriad Teams workspaces being created without actually being used. In this blog, we give tips on how to prevent this.
In many cases, MS Teams works exactly as intended: documents are edited by the various members in the Teams workspace, communication in the workspace revolves around the documents it contains, and all information is recent and frequently used.
Unfortunately, there is also a risk of workspaces being created over-enthusiastically, and hardly being used afterwards, if at all. These usually contain few or no documents, and show no recent activity.
The moment the ratio grows skewed, and the inactive workspaces take over, it becomes increasingly difficult to find relevant information and documents. As a result, the efficiency and productivity for which MS Teams is intended is lost. The term ‘Teams Sprawl‘ has been invented to describe this proliferation of workspaces.
Creating workspaces in MS Teams is super-easy! But herein, of course, lies the danger. Because if everyone is given free rein to just get started, it’s a very slippery slope indeed. Our first advice is therefore to initially deactivate the ‘Create MS Teams’ button. This can be reactivated – in a controlled manner – once a well-considered plan has been implemented.
Step one of this plan is a sound process design, covering questions such as:
- On what conditions can workspaces be created?
- Who can request a workspace?
- Who can approve the applications?
- Who can create the workspaces?
Be sure to create a clear workflow that answers these questions. Considering the process in this way, and mapping it out properly, naturally creates more awareness within the organization.
A sound structure
In essence, MS Teams simply is one big box in which the workspaces of all departments and/or workgroups are stored. A user can probably find their own department’s workspace without too much trouble, but locating any of the others will most likely prove more difficult.
A clear structure is therefore indispensable, starting with the type of workspace. Workspace types are like categories that accurately reflect the collaboration. Thinking in categories is of course nothing new, especially for those familiar with Microsoft SharePoint. Although the categories are less visible in MS Teams, they are no less useful.
By encouraging users to think in categories, it becomes a lot easier to distinguish between the different workspaces.
Department, project or community?
The first category is obvious: departments. In addition, there are ‘horizontal’ categories that facilitate and promote collaboration throughout the organization. These come in two variations:
- Project – for short cyclical work with a start and end
- Community – for knowledge sharing and continuous information gathering
The big difference between these two categories is that a project has a clear end, and a community does not. So if the collaboration is for a shorter period, it is a project. If the workspace is intended to record and share knowledge about a specific topic, it is a community.
Users do not need to worry about departmental workspaces, as these are created beforehand with the organization chart as a starting point.
A second measure is to archive workspaces once the period of collaboration or active sharing and editing of information has ended. ‘Project’ workspaces have this feature by default: as soon as a project is closed, its status changes to ‘archived’ in MS Teams and it automatically moves to the ‘closed Teams’ button, so it is no longer visible in the daily work processes within the tool.
For Community workspaces, this is not an automatic process, so it is important that the workflow covers who is responsible for archiving workspaces that are no longer relevant or current.
This is the way to avoid a jumble of Teams workspaces that no one can make sense of. Only thus does it remain manageable, and can a clear distinction be made between ‘active’ workspaces and spaces that – if necessary – can merely be consulted.
Manual or automated?
Once a good workflow has been defined for creating, designing and archiving workspaces, it can quite easily be implemented manually. Setting clear rules about the procedure to be followed puts the subject in the spotlight, and this awareness in itself already results in an improvement compared to a situation in which everyone can create and manage workspaces unsupervised.
After this first phase, it is time to consider automating it. Here too, the first step is to map out the workflow, not least because this input is needed for setting up the automation. Microsoft 365 has various tools that can help with this.
For example, Microsoft Forms can be used to streamline the workspace creation request. All necessary information, including the category, can be included in the form. After that, the form can be sent to the approvers for further processing, who in turn decide whether or not to create the workspace.
But why limit the automation to the application form? Controlling the workflow and even creating the workspace no longer needs to be done manually.
Microsoft Power Apps can present the request, after which Power Automate takes control of the workflow and delivers the request to the right person. The approval – or rejection – is done digitally, upon which the workspace can be automatically created in MS Teams upon approval, using the Graph API function.
Do it yourself or outsource
As this blog has made clear, the standard MS Teams controls leave room for improvement. Setting up well-considered processes and workflows is therefore an important first step. The automation of this is the ultimate solution! Although this requires some knowledge, thanks to Microsoft 365’s user-friendly no-code tools, developer’s skills are not needed.
Organizations that do not have this knowledge in-house can of course choose to outsource it to an external party for whom the Microsoft tools no longer hold any secrets. In addition, there is a growing market of software developers who create specific tools for automating MS Teams governance tasks, both for end-users and for managing the app.
This is an excellent way to get the most out of MS Teams for efficient collaboration!
About the author
Tom Brand is Product Manager at QS solutions. As part of that role, he is Product Owner for PortalTalk, QS solutions’ security and governance solution for Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online.
Many of the best practices learned from numerous SharePoint Online and MS Teams deployments have been packaged in PortalTalk.