Governance | 12 min read

How to manage clutter and archive content in Microsoft Teams

WRITTEN BY Quinn Mason
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Whether you're concerned with compliance or cleaning up inactive teams, here's how to archive teams, conversations, and channels in Microsoft Teams.

Published on October 3, 2019.

Microsoft Teams has really taken off. Users like Teams because it empowers them to create the tools they need without having to go through IT (if self-service is enabled, that is). And IT departments like to see their users embracing a company-approved tool.

Thing is, while Teams is surprisingly easy to use, it's also easy to use improperly. Users who don't know about all the different ways to create a new Office 365 Group or Microsoft Team can wind up creating duplicates accidentally. And having tons of unnecessary or inactive teams lying around can lead to your tenant sprawling out of control faster than you'd think.

So what can you do to keep things organized and up-to-date? Depending on your organization's specific concerns, you have three options to choose from:

  1. Set retention policies based on an expiration timeline
  2. Put a team in a read-only state
  3. Identify and remove inactive teams

Option 1: Retention policies in Microsoft Teams

If compliance is a big concern for your organization, then retention policies are probably your best bet.

They're designed to address a specific compliance requirement by preserving or deleting data after the expiration timeline that you've set. Retention can be applied while a team is still active—so its main goal isn't really about keeping things clean.

Because each team has associated workloads spanning multiple Office 365 products, a team's content is stored in more than one place. Depending on the type of content you want to retain, you can apply retention...

Organization-wide: Applied across your entire tenant, including the following products:

  • Exchange email (Exchange Online Plan 2 license needed)
  • SharePoint sites
  • OneDrive accounts
  • Office 365 Groups (applies to content in the group's mailbox, site, and documents)
  • Exchange public folders

To specific Office 365 products: With the possibility of including or excluding specific groups, sites, user mailboxes, and OneDrive accounts. It's important to note that Teams has its own unique retention policy, and so aren't included in retention policies applied to Office 365 Groups.

There are two types of Teams-specific retention policies that admins can set in the Security & Compliance Center:

  1. Preservation: Sometimes, for compliance reasons, you want to make sure data is preserved and available in eDiscovery, no matter what happens in the end user tools. These policies preserve your data for a designated period of time, after which the policy can indicate whether to do nothing or delete the data.
  2. Deletion: On the other hand, you might want to delete data so its not a liability. Like preservation policies, you choose an expiration timeline—after which the data is deleted.

It's worth noting that these Teams retention policies only apply to Teams chat and channel messages, and can only be applied tenant wide—not to specific teams. You can find more details about Teams retention in the official Microsoft documentation.

At the end of the day, retention policies are designed for compliance. You can only set policies based on a timeline—which might not be correlated to actual usage. And because retention can be applied while a team is still active, retention on its own won't necessarily tidy up your Teams.

Option 2: How to archive a team in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft also gives you the option to archive a team, putting it in a read-only state. You'll still be able to search through an archived team for stuff that you need, and you can choose to reactivate it (or delete it) at some point in the future.

Only team owners and admins with access to the Teams admin center can archive and restore teams, and the conversations and files in the team become read-only once archived.

To archive a team

  1. Select Teams in the left sidebar to see the list of all your teams.
  2. Select Manage (the gear icon) at the bottom of the list.
  3. Find the team you want to archive, select More options, then Archive team.
  4. Select Make the SharePoint site read-only for team members to prevent people from editing the content in the associated SharePoint site and Wiki tab (although team owners can still edit this content).

To restore a team

Follow the same steps 1 and 2 above. Then, find the name of the team you want to restore in the Archived list of teams, select More options, then Restore team.

For detailed step-by-step instructions on archiving, restoring, and searching through archived team content, check out the official Microsoft support documentation.

The biggest downside to this method? What Microsoft refers to as "archiving" isn't really archiving in the true sense of the word—i.e. transferring data somewhere else. An archived team's conversations and files will still be visible and show up in search, team members just can't modify them. If the end goal is to declutter and make Teams easier to navigate, this won't exactly work.

What Microsoft refers to as "archiving" isn't really archiving in the true sense of the word. An archived team's conversations and files will still be visible and show up in search.

You can delete a team if you want to actually remove all of its content. But be very careful: while you can restore a deleted team by restoring its associated Office 365 Group, deleted Office 365 Groups are only retained for 30 days (a period referred to as "soft-delete"). Once that timeframe has passed, there's no way to get a deleted group or team back.

Option 3: Identify and remove inactive teams

But what if your main goal isn't compliance? What if you just want to make Teams easier to navigate and search through?

If you want to improve usability, you need to identify unnecessary teams that aren't being actively used, then remove those teams from your tenant—either by deleting them or storing them somewhere else.

For now, finding potentially obsolete teams requires that you either:

  1. Run a Teams usage report. The Microsoft Teams usage report in the Teams admin center shows things like the number of active users and channels, as well as usage information for individual teams—including the number of active users and channels, guests, and messages. But you can only view a report for the last 7 or 28 days. Such a short timeline won't necessarily give an accurate picture of whether a team is still needed or in use.
  2. Script with PowerShell. If you're comfortable using PowerShell, this script posted to Microsoft's TechNet portal can help identify potential candidates for removal by generating an activity report. A group or team is deemed "inactive" when there's been no recorded use of the associated mailbox, SharePoint site, or chats in awhile.
  3. Use a third-party tool. A third-party tool like ShareGate Apricot can monitor your tenant for you, and automatically detect inactive teams based on user activity and the policies that you've set.

The first two options leave a lot of the onus on IT—from scripting to running and interpreting a report—making it harder for Teams to scale as fast as your organization. And then there's still the problem of what to do with those teams. Delete them? Leave them where they are in a read-only state?

ShareGate Apricot can help identify inactive teams, AND archive their files and folders for you (in the true sense of the word!). When you archive a team, we copy its content and store it securely—on our Azure server or yours. So you can delete the team from your tenant and only keep resources that are actually being used.


Unlike other third-party governance tools, ShareGate Apricot lets you archive old content indefinitely—so you can rest easy knowing files can be restored anytime. And, ShareGate Apricot is easy to setup and even easier to manage—no clunky interface, no coding, and no Azure AD premium subscription required.

Get the visibility you need to keep Teams on track.