Note: This article assumes you have a good technical understanding of teams and associated Microsoft products.
Back in March 2020, I was four months into a new job as an Associate Dean of Salford Business School and suddenly found that I was getting a lot of exercise running up and down the stairs in my building telling people to strip their offices of what they needed (I *think* I know who I gave my work laptop to ?).
Following this, the school and rest of the University created a *lot* of teams sites in a rush to deal with different activities and co-ordinate and plan activities. We saw this across the sector as Universities quickly transitioned to being virtual organisations.
Five months later – here is a random selection of thoughts about using teams based on my own experience and talking to people at mine and other Universities. I’ll provide a practical example of how my usage has evolved over time at the end.
Most sites should be temporary
This is straightforward – most sites should be temporary with a defined life-span. They should be deleted or archived at the end of a project to avoid clutter in the teams interface for users.
Most sites should not be sites
This is a big one and a common mistake – because at the start of lock-down we were all scrambling to keep up, teams sites were created at a rapid pace. This is the biggest mistake. It is better to create fewer sites and more channels.
If you are involved in a leadership position – sit down and see how many teams sites you currently have running – how many can be deleted or retired and replaced with a channel in a new structure with fewer teams and more channels?
Most people involved in a project/work-stream should *not* be added to a team site
Every time you add someone to a team you are signing them up to more notifications and messages that are of peripheral interest to them.
This sounds counter-intuitive but I’m come to realise that in large projects that many people involved do not actually need access to the associated teams site and that it is actually more confusing for them and leads to information overload. If you need people to report on activities for a project team or co-coordinator there are better ways to do this than getting them to manually email or add to channels conversations.
Teams works best if you understand the tools it interacts with
Out of the box teams is pretty powerful but it is even more powerful if you understand how it works with other tools – especially planner and Microsoft forms.
Most people are now struggling with technical debt – burn it all down.
If you take all of the above – all of us (me included) have been involved in sub-optimal practices in the last five months and are now suffering from technical debt. The mistakes we made in the past are impacting our effectiveness in the present and future.
My advice would be to burn it all down and start from scratch – take what you have learnt and go from there.
An example of the above put into practice for a discreet project
Let’s work through a example of how I’ve put the above into practice for a discreet project of a determined length. As Associate Dean (Student Experience) it’s my responsibility to make sure all students have a programme level induction and that induction reaches the high standard set by the University.
So the simple solution is to create a team-site and add all the programme leaders – WRONG – although it’s useful for PLs to know what other PLs are doing, they don’t need the clutter of every conversation I have with other PLs collecting information.
So here is how I’m using Teams in conjunction with other Office365 services to plan our induction.
First of all – I set up a Planner – Planner is Microsoft’s project planning tool – and list out all of the tasks that as co-ordinator I need to ensure are happening.
For the vast of people involved in Induction – I will provide a read-only link so that it’s me who ticks off something is done (because ultimately it my job to ensure the induction is of a high quality). They can track what is going on via the link which they can bookmark.
Now in the planning process, there are a series of discreet bits of information I need to get off programme leaders to make sure things are in hand – a simple example we will see at every University is “when is your programme welcome and what does it consist of?”
Now traditionally, we do all this via email and then when c-19 hit, we’d set up a teams sites and end up with a mish-mash of emails, teams messages and so on and a headache for the co-ordinator to pull it all together.
However given the information I need to collect is standard across programmes – what I will be doing instead is creating a series of very simple microsoft forms to collect this information (helpfully people can attached documents to forms so I can ask them to attach welcome slides etc). When you create forms they automatically generate an excel spreadsheet with all the collected information so I do not need to manually do this.
But where’s the Teams site you ask? OK – let’s take a look at the induction site:
So part of the power of teams is you can embed other microsoft products into the teams with a few clicks.
So let’s start with the general channel – the tab at the top of a channel has a + button, I clicked that and selected planner and the planner I created that staff can access as read only is now embedded in the teams site for my convenience and the few other staff who have access.
The next channel is the forms creation channel – you can create forms directly in Teams to circulate and the associated data is collected directly into the teams site. That helps me track what is done and who I need to chase for information. When you create a form, it automatically creates a excel in the files section of the teams site with the output of the form.
To make it easier for PLs to deal with, I’ve create a number of short forms that represent the discreet bits of information they need to provide and they can do it as we go along.
There are a couple of options here – I could embed the forms in teams and add all the PLs but that will create the information overload I mentioned before (if a PL did want access, no problem) and so I’m just going to send them out as URLs with the induction overview to complete. I’m going to A/B test this idea with another project where I do add members and they complete the forms directly in the teams site.
Finally we have the ideas emails channel – an under-used feature of teams is that all have channels have their own email address. So if a staff member sends me an idea or a query about induction, I forward it onto the ideas emails channels to deal with (and then add to the planner if needed) and tick off.
So from a PL perspective – they can see the overall plan and associated information in the read only planner. They know what information they need to supply me and the forms is the way to do this. However they aren’t stuck on yet another teams site where they keep getting notifications for messages they often have nothing to do with them.
The critical thing that has changed in my thinking is that Teams is the hub for activity for projects but it does not mean you want everyone to go there and when used in conjunction with tools like forms you can automate largely elements of routine repeatable activities. It is also the hub for other Microsoft tools better suited to what you want to do than teams itself.