Microsoft Teams Without the Teams

This unconventional approach to rolling out Microsoft Teams is ideal for small to mid-sized organizations that want to leverage the benefits of Microsoft Teams, but who are hesitant to start a Teams project due to budget, schedule, or governance concerns.

At Regroove, plenty of our clients have joked that they’d love to adopt Microsoft Teams if only they could do it without the teams. So we asked ourselves: “Why not?”

Keep reading if you’d like to learn how to implement Microsoft Teams without the Teams.


Why are some organizations afraid to roll out Microsoft Teams?

Interdependencies and Governance

Microsoft Teams has a lot of technical interdependencies that require a moderate to advanced level of technical familiarity with Office 365.

When a team is created in Microsoft Teams, it creates an Office 365 group behind the scenes. The group that is created behind the scenes includes the Team it was created from, a shared Outlook inbox, a shared calendar, a SharePoint team site, a shared OneNote notebook, and a Planner.

A lot of mistakes can be made if Teams are created without a firm grasp of the foundation they are built on, and out of the box, any internal user can create a Team in Microsoft Teams. If I had a nickel for every org I’ve come across with a plethora of Office 365 Groups (again… this means SharePoint sites, email addresses, etc…) that were created by accident, I could retire. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s very common.

The only way that team creation can be controlled is by managing who can create Office 365 Groups, which requires a degree of proficiency with Azure and PowerShell. There are a few ways that we usually do this but none are as simple as flipping a switch.

Teams Trust Issues That Therapy Can’t Fix

In early 2019, Microsoft updated some Office 365 licenses to add Teams as another default app, even with existing installs of Office 365.

What this meant was that thousands of people found Teams installing itself on their computers without their consent. System admins who had not prepared for this change were pretty rattled.

It reminds me of that time when Apple pushed a U2 album on everyone with an iTunes account.

Microsoft Teams has been compared to Slack as a rival since its inception. Slack fired shots at Microsoft through a full back page ad in the New York Times when Microsoft unveiled Teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft’s move to include Teams with existing installs of Office 365 was somehow related to this competition. Shortly after this change, on July 11 2019, Microsoft announced that Teams had surpassed Slack with over 13 million active users, a number that has been steadily climbing to this day.

The seemingly overnight rollout of Microsoft Teams was a governance nightmare. Any organization that wasn’t prepared for Teams’ arrival no longer had control over who create SharePoint sites, Outlook inboxes, and more, which catalyzed data sprawl.

It makes sense that some organizations are reluctant to roll out Microsoft Teams, but I’d like to show them that they don’t have to be with this approach.

How to Roll Out Microsoft Teams Without the Teams

Step by step instructions on how to roll out Microsoft Teams can be found here, in the Microsoft Docs. You’ll need to follow those as a technical setup guide, but use my tips as guidance for your implementation.

Step 1: Establish the “Why”

If you don’t know why you’re doing this, why are you doing it? Defining the purpose of your Microsoft Teams project, your desired outcomes, and any other goals will help you demonstrate the value of Microsoft Teams and foster employee engagement with the product.

Step 2: Lock Down the Creation of Office 365 Groups

Do this before anything else, using Microsoft’s instructions.

Step 3: Start the Transition from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams

As per these instructions, go into the Teams admin center and set your Coexistence mode to Islands so that your users can use Skype for Business and Teams at the same time.

Microsoft provides in-depth resources to guide you through the full transition from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams, and you’ll want to make the full transition eventually.

This blog post in the Microsoft Tech Community talks about Skype for Business Online’s end of life date, and provides a feature comparison between Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Step 4: Customize the Teams Sidebar

Go into the Microsoft Teams admin center and find Teams apps in the sidebar. Click on Permission policies and choose Block all apps for all options.

Next, navigate to Setup policies (also under Teams apps). Click on Global (Org-wide default) and edit the Pinned apps – these are the apps that show up in the Teams Sidebar.

Remove Teams, then add and remove whatever you want. The ellipses menu at the bottom holds all of your default apps, tucked away from view. If group creation is locked down and no teams exist, the Teams menu item will basically lead to nothing.

For screenshots and additional details, see this post by Loryan Strant.

My recommendation is for your navigation to look like this…

Activity

Your notifications feed.

Chat

Private 1:1 or group chat with GIFs and emojis that are better than the ones Skype for Business has. You can co-author documents and initiate meetings or phone calls through Chat, too.

Calendar

Synced with your Outlook calendar. Schedule and open your voice and video conference meetings here, too.

Calling

Your phone, contacts, and voicemail.

Files

Your OneDrive files and files you’ve downloaded from Teams.

Navo

Your company’s centrally managed bookmarks. Navo links to the different websites and tools that you use. Departments can keep their folders and links private from the rest of the company if they contain sensitive information.

This post by Stephanie Kahlam walks through the steps on how to pin Navo (or any custom application) to the navigation menu in Teams.

Navo app in Microsoft Teams

Disclaimer: The company I work for, Regroove, makes Navo. We made this tool because we needed it and we realized that a lot of organizations need it, too. You don’t have to use Navo, but I hope you try it. Find Navo in the Teams app store and try it free for 30 days.

Step 5: Perform Testing

Test Teams with different accounts that belong to different departments, permission groups, etc. It’s important to make sure you haven’t missed anything in your configuration, that you test your setup of Navo’s security trimming, and that you understand what your people will see when they use Teams.

Step 6: Prepare for Change

Communicate that change is coming:

  • Tell the people you work with about this awesome Teams program that’s going to be way better than Skype for Business. Tell them why it’s going to be better than Skype for Business and provide personal examples if possible.
  • Reassure your people that Skype for Business can still be used (for now), but that Microsoft Teams will become the new preferred application for chat and voice.
  • Communicate the “why” behind your rollout of Microsoft Teams and that everyone will have the resources they need to make the transition. Emphasize the fun parts of Teams like GIFs, emojis, and reactions.
  • Take screenshots, record a quick video overview, or give a live demo of your organization’s Teams environment from an end-user account to help familiarize your people with what Microsoft Teams will look like for them.

Next, plan a go-live date and send an event invite for that date to your entire company. In the body of the meeting, clearly list the steps that everyone will have to take during the rollout and include any other resources that may be helpful for the transition.

If you’re rolling out Teams without the teams, a lot of Microsoft’s training videos and resources won’t apply to your organization. Microsoft has a Teams Customer Success Kit with some great email templates for rolling out Microsoft Teams, but take caution to remove anything that references teams themselves and their channels as to reduce confusion.

I recommend that you put together a list of specific help articles that relate to your team, like how to manage notifications, or start a chat in Teams, and link to them somewhere they can be easily referenced. You could put these links in an email, or inside a folder in Navo with a title like “Teams Help”.

Step 7: Go Live!

Make whatever changes you have to make to deploy Teams across your organization. I’m not going to tell you how to do this, but Microsoft will. 😉

Step 8: Gather Feedback and Perform Analysis

Share a Microsoft Forms form with your organization to capture ongoing feedback as people start to use Microsoft Teams.

Schedule check-in dates to gather feedback. You could set these check-ins a couple of days out, a couple of weeks out, and a couple of months out from your rollout of Microsoft Teams. You could create surveys in Microsoft Forms for these check-ins. Make sure you gather feedback from different positions and departments in a way that you can analyze it and gain insight; for example, maybe one department loves Teams and the other doesn’t, or managers are experiencing different pros and cons than regular staff. This can help you give more attention to those who need it.

You can also analyze reports in the Teams admin center to see how your people are literally using Teams, including which devices they’re using Teams from.

Use these insights to assemble a report for whomever you had to convince to do this project.

Step 9: Determine Next Steps

Once your organization is comfortably using Microsoft Teams, plan your next steps.

You can slowly add apps into the sidebar, like Planner or OneNote, as your organization starts to use them.

If you have more time and budget on your hands, future projects to consider could be a full migration from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams or a rollout of the teams in Teams.

So… are you ready for Microsoft Teams without the teams?

If you’ve read this far, bravo! This was a lot of information to digest. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or critiques!

My goal in writing this post is to show you that Microsoft Teams doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can introduce Teams slowly and reap tremendous benefits, like increased productivity throughout an organization and people who are happier because the technology they use makes their workday easier and more fun.

Ultimately, I consider this solution a win if it allows people who may not have previously adopted Microsoft Teams to benefit from its other features and how it acts as a portal for other Office 365 tooling.

Since writing this post it has also come to my attention that Loryan Strant wrote a blog post on the same topic – click here for his perspectives and insights on Microsoft Teams without the teams.

This post also appears on my LinkedIn page.

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