Office 365 Groups and Teams – what, when and why?

Office 365 offers a fantastic set of collaboration tools but there are times when I wish they were just a little more tightly integrated. The basic Exchange-Skype-SharePoint trio are fine – and OneDrive is finally sorted after years of transitioning to a new client but what about Video, Sway, Groups, Yammer, Planner, etc.? Well, I recently got myself along to a Microsoft Cloud User Group event where Al Eardley (@Al_Eardley) gave a really informative talk about Groups vs. Teams – and what you should be aware of. This post attempts to merge some of the main points from Al’s talk with some other information I’ve been tracking in recent weeks to hopefully give a better idea of how these two apparently competing (but actually complementary) products can be used.

TL;DR

Office 365 Groups have been around for a while but Teams are new (at the time of writing, Teams are still in preview, having been launched in late 2016 and being lauded as “Microsoft’s Slack competitor”).

Groups vs Teams

Let’s start by thinking about the Office 365 tools we use to collaborate:

Scope Tool Notes
Me OneDrive Personal file storage
Us Teams Working as a team, to collaborate on content. On a project, bid, system, area of business
Us Groups Similar functionality but can share with partners outside the organization
Everyone SharePoint Publishing content the traditional way (can also share through Groups/Teams) with governance and approval processes. Records to keep.

Then, if we look at the features we use:

  • Distribution list – so we can easily get “stuff” to “people” using Exchange Online
  • Files – and sharing them with shared document libraries in SharePoint Online
  • OneNote – collaborative note-taking
  • Calendar – a “proper” Exchange calendar, not just a SharePoint calendar!
  • Planner – for task management; things to complete as a team, with criteria to step through, simple interface – a Kanban board like Trello
  • Landing page – that’s editable/customisable
  • News – keeping everyone informed
  • Yammer Group – because Office 365 Groups and Yammer Groups are now integrated
  • Persisted Chat – within Teams. Another way to record conversations
  • Channels – the ability to have a team with multiple channels to segregate content by project/activity
  • Connectors – the ability to include information from other sources, e.g. Twitter, Visual Studio, PowerBI, etc.

Woah! Information overload! And some of these features are in Groups. Some are in Teams. Neither has them all!

So consider this: with Groups we create a container for content, integrating various services and applying security using a common identity; Teams sit above Groups – and creating a Team creates an underlying Group. Also, Groups can be public, private or external but Teams are public/private only (there is no external sharing in Teams).

That’s the easy part – access to the features depends on the application you’re using (Outlook, Outlook on the Web, SharePoint Online, Planner, a Group site, Teams in-browser, Teams in the desktop client… etc.). We get different views of the same elements from different locations – which can feel a bit disjointed but I expect (sincerely hope) it will get better as Teams moves closer to release.

It might help to look at what goes where inside Office 365 (this information is taken from a recent webinar from AvePoint):

Skype for Business Online Exchange Online SharePoint Online Planner Yammer
  • Instant Messaging
  • Broadcast meetings
  • Teams chats
  • User mailboxes
  • Calendars
  • Group conversations
  • Group mailboxes
  • Planner task comments
  • Sites, lists, libraries
  • Office 365 Video portal
  • User OneDrives
  • Group files
  • Group notebooks
  • Teams attachments
  • Planner attachments
  • Plans
  • Buckets
  • Tasks
  • Internal networks
  • External networks
  • Yammer notes and files

So which tool has which features?

Features Groups Teams
Distribution List Yes Yes
Files Yes Yes*
OneNote Yes Yes*
Calendar Yes Yes*
Landing Page Yes Not visible
News Yes Not visible
Planner Yes Yes*
Yammer Group Yes No
Persisted Chat No Yes
Channels No Yes
Connectors Yes Yes

Items marked * in the table above are segregated by channel

Pros and cons

Drawbacks Benefits
Groups
  • Interface – disjointed navigation experience
  • Skype for Business – very little integration
  • Conversations – Outlook conversations add nothing new to collaboration
  • Yammer – there are restrictions on integration
  • Landing page – does not offer links to all features of a team (Calendar or Planner) – the page can be changed but this needs some SharePoint knowledge
  • News – is an immature feature
  • Groups are public by default (which can lead to oversharing)
  • External access
  • Android/iOS apps
  • Easy to provision (maybe too easy sometimes, unless self-service group creation is disabled)
  • Management tools are improving with controls over naming, banned words, soft-deletion, group expiration, etc.
Teams
  • Calendar – can’t invite Rooms, a Surface Hub, or anyone outside of the team
  • Skype for Business – joining meetings from Outlook does not use Teams (it opens the Skype for Business client instead!)
  • Planner – tasks in Teams planners are not available in Groups; and Teams planners are not visible in the Teams web interface or in Planner!
  • News – not available at all
  • Chat – restricted to the Team
  • Single interface
  • Skype for business integration
  • Windows and Mac apps
  • Android/iOS apps
  • Regular product updates

Further Reading

Four considerations before rolling out Microsoft Teams

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