10 tips to get started with Microsoft Teams

With evolving tools to connect and collaborate, each team needs to plan how to work together and organizations need to think about how to support team work

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Tip 4. Don’t cross the streams: Create a new Team for each project.

Even if the same people work on every project, once you understand the connection between Team channels and folders (see Tip 5), you will quickly find that you will want isolate projects so that you can more easily find and organize documents. In addition, since you may have some projects with external users and others without, you will likely also want to isolate your content from a governance perspective. As of the day that I am writing this, you can’t have external users in a Team—but this capability is scheduled to arrive in the coming months.

One of the new capabilities announced today is the ability to email a Teams channel and retain the rich formatting of your email message. This capability makes it even more important to sharpen the focus of your Teams along with the announcement today that Teams support “open, public teams” within an organization with membership up to 999 people.

Tip 5. Plan a little but not too much: Do a little up front planning with your team to identify some initial channels—but don’t go overboard.

Your team channels might seem like they are just ways to focus conversations—and they are—but they are more than that because they also have an impact on your Team’s Documents library. Each channel has an “out of the box” Files tab that creates a folder in your Team’s Documents library in the connected SharePoint team site. If there are no documents for that channel, there will be an empty folder in the Documents library.

This is an important reason why your team needs to develop an agreement about how to work together and organizing team assets. If you have team members who create content outside the team channels, you will want a way to showcase that content to other team members—so be sure to have a conversation about expectations (but keep reading because there is something else you should do).

Every Team starts with a channel called General. This is basically a place to have conversations about anything. Some teams have different topics that you know in advance will be helpful to focus conversations. For example, if your Team supports Marketing, you might want to create a channel for Conferences and another for Thought Leadership. (If you have ever used the Community site template in SharePoint, you’ll notice that Channels in Teams help organize conversations the same way that Categories do in Community discussion forums.) Rather than making your team crazy trying to anticipate everything that you might ever want to talk about up front, it’s a good idea to allow your channels to evolve as you realize that you need to add more focus to your chat. Remember, Teams already provides threads to organize chat. People don’t want to go to “too many places” to keep up. It’s better to start in one (or a few) places then evolve as needed.

Tip 6. Hands off Shared Documents: Try to avoid customizing the default Documents (i.e. Shared%20Documents) library in your Team-connected SharePoint site.

Use the default Documents library of the team site for "general use" file sharing. If you have need for more advanced enterprise content management capabilities, including metadata, records management, custom content types, etc., create separate, purpose-built document libraries on the team site. Tip 7 will explain more, and Tip 8 explains how you can still leverage your customized document libraries inside your Team.

To reiterate: Don’t mess with the default Documents library in modern SharePoint sites! Let Teams have that library. You can use it, but honestly, I don’t think I will use it at all if my team is using Teams (see Tip 7).

Tip 7. Files vs. Files: Understand the different user experiences for interacting with files in the Teams vs. SharePoint interfaces—and plan accordingly.

If your team members have been using SharePoint team sites to share files, they may also have had it drilled in to their brains that folders are the “F word”—never to be used. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an information architect so I love metadata! But folders provide an organizational metaphor that works. People understand folders. The can visualize documents living in folders. The biggest problem with folders for me is nesting. I am a major fan of metadata for intranets, but for teams using Teams, you need to change your thinking about the F-word and think about how channels and folders are connected.

Here’s what happens when you create a new Team from a files perspective:

  • You get a new SharePoint site collection (a team site).
  • The team site has a document library called Documents (still Shared%20Documents behind the scenes).
  • A folder is created in the default Documents library called General—to align with the default General channel in your Team.
  • Create a new channel and you get a new folder with the same name as the channel. (Note: If you change the name of the channel in the Teams interface, the folder name in SharePoint does not change. If you create a folder in SharePoint, your Teams interface doesn’t see it unless you follow my next tip.) The Files tab in each channel shows the contents of the corresponding folder in the SharePoint document library.

So, all your documents are going to live in folders whether you like it or not. If you add metadata to your documents in SharePoint, you will NOT see the metadata from the Teams interface. From Teams, you see a flat list of documents in the folder that aligns with the channel. If you create sub-folders within the channel, you will see them—but you won’t see any metadata other than the file Type, Name, and Modified by user. Can you add metadata to your Teams documents? Technically, yes. But don’t. Here’s why: You can’t add or see metadata in the Teams files experience. Any documents you upload with required metadata will be "checked out" in SharePoint until you add the metadata in SharePoint and check them in. as shown in the two images below.

The two alternate views are shown in the images below. (The example screen shots also show what happens when you re-name a channel from the Teams interface. The connection to the SharePoint documents remains, but the folder in SharePoint now has a different name than the associated channel.)

Tip 8. Tab it! Determine your “go to” user experience for files, but make it easy see the big picture.

When you are using Teams, your team has two different interfaces they can use to connect to Files. Talk to your team about the different experiences and establish some expectations about where and how you will get your work done.

You can connect to files as part of the Teams chat experience but you can also work with documents and other team content from the team site experience in SharePoint. As explained above, by default, you see the files associated with the channel when you are using the Teams app. If you already had an active team site, your Team will not see the existing files unless you make some explicit connections. I recommend making two connections right away:

  • Create a tab using the SharePoint tab connector for each document library in your team site. This will provide a way for team members to see documents that might have been created prior to the instantiation of the Team. But remember that the SharePoint connector shows a Files experience only and only allows you to connect to a document library. However, from that link, you now see an Open in SharePoint button at the top that will open the document library in SharePoint - where you will see the full SharePoint experience for the default Documents library. 
  • Create a tab using the Website tab connector for your team site. This will allow you to view the home page of your team site from the Teams experience. From that tab, you can use the "go to website" icon in the upper right to open the full SharePoint team site in the browser.

Tip 9. Make the connection two-way: Create a link to your Team from SharePoint.

Create a link to the Teams team from the SharePoint site. Open the Teams team in a web browser. Copy the URL. On the SharePoint site, edit the links of the Quick Launch (left navigation) and add the link. The link will open the team in the Microsoft Teams web experience. There is not currently a way to add a link that opens the team in the Teams desktop app.

Tip 10. Don’t keep it to yourself! Share your tips, ideas, and questions in the Microsoft Tech Community!

Microsoft Teams is a new member to the collaboration family in Office 365 and even though lots of people have been using it in preview, there is a lot we can learn from each other—especially when it comes to good practices. As a funny aside, I was sharing some of the tips in this post with members of the product marketing team at Microsoft who had no idea that you could connect an entire SharePoint site in a Teams tab with the website connector. They were sure it wouldn’t work – but they now know it does!

So, if you haven’t already done so, now is a great time to join the Microsoft Tech Community at https://techcommunity.microsoft.com. To get started, here is a post with links to resources for Microsoft Teams. The Tech Community is the best place to share ideas, ask questions and learn from a community that includes Microsoft engineering and marketing teams, MVPs and the users of Microsoft products all over the world. There is a specific channel in the community for Microsoft Teams. There will be an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session about Microsoft Teams hosted in the Microsoft Tech Community at 9:00 am UTC-7 on March 22, 2017.

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