Finding and managing ownerless Microsoft Teams

What is an ownerless Microsoft team? We explain why every team needs an owner, how to find those that don't, and how to add an owner to Microsoft teams.

No matter how prepared you are, there are some things that are simply out of your control. Case in point? Employees have a tendency to move around—whether they're starting a new job at your organization, leaving their current role for a new one, or switching between projects internally.

Keeping track of users is especially critical with regards to resource accountability in Office 365: we're talking about ownership of teams in Microsoft Teams and all of their associated workloads.

So what can you do to make sure someone is always accountable for user-created resources?

When it comes to managing ownerless teams in your Microsoft Teams, you have three basic options:


What is an ownerless team in Microsoft Teams?

In Microsoft Teams, users can have one of two possible roles within a specific team: owner or member (which includes external users who have been granted guest access)

Both owners and members can access the team's shared resources, files, and conversations. However, owners have unique permissions that make them vital to the proper functioning of each team.

For example, only team owners can:

  • Edit the team name and description
  • Delete the team
  • Add members to the team (if it's private)
  • Promote a member to owner status
  • See the name/owner of all private channels*
  • Delete any private channel

*Team owners can only access a private channel's conversations and content if they've been added.

Essentially, team owners are accountable for managing a team and its content throughout its lifecycle. Common best practice says you should have at least 2 owners to share the management of each team. That way, if one owner leaves, there is still someone who is accountable.

But sometimes you'll find yourself in a situation where a team was created, and the only owner later left your organization completely—leaving that team ownerless.

Common best practice says you should have at least 2 owners to share the management of each team. That way, if one owner leaves, there is still someone who is accountable.

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An ownerless team will function insofar as its members will continue to have the same access and permissions as before. However, if the team is private, no one within the team will be able to add or remove users without the help of IT.

Option #1: Manage ownerless teams in the Microsoft Teams admin center

Microsoft does include some failsafes to try to prevent ownerless teams—and gives you the ability to find ownerless teams if you already have them.

Preventing ownerless teams

Microsoft Teams includes some safety measures to help prevent ownerless teams from happening in the first place.

For example, if a team only has one owner, they'll be prevented from leaving that team until another member has been promoted.

That rule also applies if you're an IT admin trying to remove a team's sole owner from a team through the Microsoft Teams admin center—the X Remove option won't be made available to you.

You will be blocked from removing a team's sole owner in the Teams admin center.

You'll also be prevented from demoting a team's sole owner to member:

You'll also be stopped from demoting a team's sole owner to member.

This UI is also where you can promote a current team member to team owner. Simply click on the drop-down menu to the right of where their current role is listed and select Owner.

Click the drop-down menu to promote a current member to owner.

Finding ownerless teams

But what if an owner isn't just leaving a team because they've switched projects? If a team's only owner leaves your organization (their user account is removed), you now have an ownerless team on your hands.

Microsoft's out-of-the-box solution for finding ownerless teams involves IT manually searching through the Microsoft Teams admin center. Ownerless teams will appear with a 0 in the Owners column, and an exclamation point next to it:

See which teams are ownerless in the Microsoft Teams admin center.

Not so bad if you only have a handful of teams. But aside from having to remember to continually check back, there's also no way to filter or sort your list of teams within the admin center UI. If your organization has hundreds—or even thousands—of teams, this method could quickly become a nightmare for IT.

Option #2: Use PowerShell to manage ownerless teams

If you're not afraid of a little scripting, then using PowerShell may be the best option for you.

The General Availability Microsoft Teams PowerShell module released in April of 2019 supports multiple cmdlets that assist in managing the lifecycle of your teams.

As long as you are a Global Admin or Teams Service Admin, you can use the GA Teams PowerShell module to identify and manage teams on behalf of your users and make bulk updates faster—including changing memberships or configuring team settings.

This simple script shared by Microsoft MVP Tom Arbuthnot is based on the GA Teams PowerShell module, and collects summary details about each team's owner, member, and guest count.

From there, it's easy to filter all of your teams showing 0 owners—generating an instant list of all of your ownerless teams.

PS C: \WINDOWS\system32> $OutputCollection | Where-Object {$_.Ownercount -eq 0} | Select-Object DisplayName

DisplayName
-----------
Team1
Team2
Team3
Team4

If you're comfortable coding, then this method is a lot less time-consuming than the first option. However, it still involves a bit of manual work for IT. Since users are continuously moving, you'll need to run this report regularly—it's not something you do once and you're done.

There's also the matter of promoting a new owner once you've determined that a team is, in fact, ownerless.

The Add-TeamUser cmdlet allows you to add an owner or member to the team and the unified group associated with it:

Add-TeamUser
   -GroupId <String>
   -User <String>
   [-Role <String>]
   [<CommonParameters>]

It's worth noting that using this cmdlet will only add the user as an owner to the unified group associated to the team, not as a member. You would then have to run the cmdlet a second time to add the user as a member.

If you promote a new team owner through the Microsoft Teams admin center (as shown in the section above), that user is automatically added as a member of the unified group at the same time. Either way, there's still a fair bit of manual work on the part of IT.

Option #3: Automatically detect and manage ownerless teams as they occur

Both of the options above involve quite a bit of manual work, and put all of the responsibility on IT—making it hard to scale quickly.

To identify and manage ownerless teams on an ongoing basis, you might instead consider automating the process with a third-party tool. ShareGate Apricot does the work of the PowerShell script mentioned above, and more—without the need for coding.

You can view a list of all of your Office 365 Groups (and by extension, your teams), along with summary details about each team's membership, Office 365 apps used, and whether or not it has a valid owner.

See a list of all your Office 365 Groups (and by extension, your teams).

On top of that, you'll receive an automatic notification the moment a team no longer has a valid owner. In other words, you'll be alerted the moment a team becomes ownerless.

See all of your orphaned teams at a glance.

Then promote a new owner right away, with just a few clicks.

See who the last owner was so you can get a bit of context, and better understand how the team ended up ownerless in the first place.

See who the last owner was to get a bit of context.

ShareGate Apricot also provides you with smart suggestions for potential new owners based on past membership and activity.

See which users have been most active in that team's associated workloads—so you can promote a new owner based on knowledge, not guessing.

View a list of smart recommendations on who to promote.

By automating the process of identifying ownerless teams—and simplifying the process of promoting a new owner—you ensure there's always someone accountable for each and every team in your tenant. Not to mention it frees up IT to tackle other things!


ShareGate Apricot's automated governance tools make it easy to keep Teams organized across the entire lifecycle—from creation all the way through to archival. And, ShareGate Apricot is easy to setup and even easier to manage—no clunky interface, no coding, and no Azure AD premium subscription required.

Keep Teams organized across the entire lifecycle.

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