How to use Microsoft Teams part 2: Teams vs channels, private channels, and Microsoft Teams integrations

Image of turquoise background with illustrated Teams icons and stars Image of turquoise background with illustrated Teams icons and stars

Wondering how to create a team in Microsoft Teams? Up-to-date on Teams private channels? Microsoft MVP Jasper Oosterveld breaks down teams vs channels, and explains what tabs have to do with Microsoft Teams integrations.

ShareGate's easy-to-use SaaS tools enable organizations to achieve more than ever before with Microsoft cloud technologies. In this four-part series, Jasper Oosterveld brings you up to speed on Microsoft Teams.

Welcome back to my guide on how to use Microsoft Teams! The first part is all wrapped up, and we're ready to rock and roll with the next part in this four-part series.

Are you ready? I know I am!

Table of contents

Want to learn Microsoft Teams best practices from the pros? Our latest eBook, Win as a Team!, is full of MVP insights and tips, and is available for download with no info required.

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Teams can be your favorite tool.

(But, don’t take our word for it)

How to create a team in Microsoft Teams

In the first part of this series, we discussed several different scenarios where Microsoft Teams might be used to enhance collaboration in the workplace. For now, let’s focus on how Microsoft Teams can help organize work around a specific project.

Let’s say we’re starting a new project to help our customer, Fabrikam, transition to the modern workplace.

Before we create a new team, we need to double check that a team for that project doesn’t already exist. Microsoft Teams doesn’t warn you about duplicates, which can cause problems for the connected Office 365 services—like SharePoint team sites, plans in Planner, and groups in Stream—that are created along with a new team.

Annoying, right?

For example: We already have a team for everyone in our sales department called Sales.

Microsoft Teams will let me create a new team—also called Sales—with its own SharePoint site collection. But, because you can’t have two site collections with the same name, a random series of numbers will be added to the end of the new site collection URL.

In this case: Oh my—that’s going to create a lot of confusion.

What can we do to prevent this situation?

There’s a button in the lower left corner of the Microsoft Teams app called Join or create a team. Here you can see an overview of all your public teams, or search for a team by name:

Create or add a team in Microsoft Teams

A quick search shows that a team named Sales already exists!

All we have to do is hover our cursor over the sales team’s icon, select Join team, and start collaborating.

Going back to our project scenario, we can see that there’s no existing team for our customer Fabrikam. Let’s go ahead and create a new one:

Creating a new team

We now have two options:

  1. Build a team from scratch
  2. Create one from an existing Office 365 Group or team

Let’s take a closer look at these options.

Build a team from scratch

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We are able to create a new team with the following settings:

  • Private: The owners need to invite colleagues to join the team.
  • Public: All colleagues are able to join the team.
  • Org-wide: All colleagues are automatically added to the team.

The last option has huge overlap with Yammer—a topic we’ll discuss more in the near future.

Create from an existing Office 365 Group or team

Office 365 Groups were empowering Office 365 services—like Outlook Groups and modern SharePoint team sites—long before the introduction of Microsoft Teams.

That means these services aren’t automatically connected to a team.

By selecting an existing Office 365 Group, we can reuse the existing structure and settings for our new team. Microsoft Teams lets you move away from communication through email or SharePoint news, and start using chat.

Creating new team from existing Office 365 Group

Public vs private teams

Because the power of the modern workplace lies, in part, with the enhanced ability to share knowledge and expertise, I always recommend creating public teams.

Of course, there are exceptions—especially where sensitive information is concerned—but private teams shouldn’t be the default.

The last step is adding members and owners:

Adding members to a team

Be sure to have at least two owners per team. This guarantees a backup contact in case one of the owners isn’t available.

Microsoft Teams channels

At the core of the Microsoft Teams app are team channels—that’s where most of the action takes place.

Every team starts with a General channel. Use this channel as the name implies—to discuss general topics related to the team's purpose.

For every other topic—i.e. Projects—create a new channel. It’s an efficient way to bundle all related content into one location.

Currently, there’s a limit of 200 channels per team, including deleted channels. You can always delete a channel if you see that it's rarely being used—in which case, the conversations will be deleted, but the documents shared within the channel will still be stored within the modern SharePoint team site.

When you’re just getting started with Microsoft Teams, there won’t be many teams listed. But be warned—once adoption increases, so will the number of team names in your sidebar. The same applies for channels within a team.

So, how can you keep your sidebar organized and easy to navigate? By selecting Show:

Select Show

Or Hide:

Select Hide

All your favorite teams are listed under the Your teams section, with other teams appearing under Hidden teams. The same principle applies for channels. Your favorite channels are listed directly under the General channel. You can see the other available channels by selecting Hidden channels:

Select Hidden channels to see all available channels

You can manually change the order of the teams by selecting a team, holding the left mouse button, and moving the team up or down.

Microsoft Teams private channels

First announced at Microsoft Ignite 2019 in Orlando, users can now converse with colleagues privately, thanks to the long-awaited introduction of private channels in Microsoft Teams.

(If you missed Ignite, check out these MVP takeaways from this year's announcements, and attendee takes on what the impact will be for IT)

Private channels are focused collaboration spaces within a team, and allow you to limit collaboration to certain group of people. Only users who are members or owners of the private channel can access it, although anyone—including those with Microsoft Teams guest access—can be added as long as they're already a member of the team.

For more on private channels in Teams, check out the official Microsoft documentation.

The awesomeness doesn’t stop there! There are more useful features at your disposal:

  • Create links to a team or channel
  • Respond to emails in a channel
  • Follow a channel
  • Mention a team or channel

Create links to a team or channel

Each team has a dedicated modern SharePoint team site to store all of its related documents and OneNote files.

The navigation between your SharePoint team site and Microsoft Teams isn’t great, so that’s where the Add a link feature comes in.

Copy the team link, and create a new shortcut in your SharePoint team site quick launch:

Create Teams link in SharePoint

Works like a charm!

That being said, in most cases—especially after a team has been in use for a while—the Teams link should already show up in the Choose an option menu:

Select the Teams link from the Choose an option menu

We also use this link within emails or chats to point colleagues to a certain team.

Respond to emails in a channel

Ideally, every member in a team saves content directly through the Microsoft Teams application or in the SharePoint team site. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world where everyone works the same way—resulting in a lot of attachments still arriving in your email inbox.

If you want to send an email to a channel in Teams, the channel email address comes in handy.

Go to the channel name and click More options > Get email address.

You can forward an email with an attachment, or reply to an email in a channel:

Reply to an email in a channel

The email is displayed as a conversation, allowing your colleagues to respond—without sending an email reply to the original sender.

The attachment and email will also be stored in the SharePoint team site:

The attachment and email will also be stored in the SharePoint team site

I'll talk a little more about files later.

Follow a channel

Following the updates of one team and of a handful of channels is doable. But what about when you're dealing with multiple teams and channels? It can become a full-time job.

By choosing the Follow option for a channel, you'll receive updates about that channel’s activity—such as when a new post is published. It's an easy way to stay up-to-date with your favorite channels.

Mention a team or channel

By using @team within a conversation, each member of the team receives a notification. The type of notification depends on each individual’s settings:

Using @team sends a notification to every member of the team

When using @channel within a conversation, each member who has favorited, or follows, the channel receives a notification.

Tabs: Microsoft Teams integrations

Your team will be structured with tabs. There are three default tabs: Posts, Files, and Wiki. I'll skip the Wiki tab because I'm not a fan. Before Wiki, we had a default OneNote tab—but no longer. Because of the change, you should always start by creating a tab to OneNote within your new team:

Each team has three default tabs: Conversations, Files, and Wiki

We always create a new section for each channel, but that’s definitely not a requirement.

Let’s look at the different available tabs:

All available tabs

Wow! That's a lot of tabs.

These all have different functions— from displaying Office 365 documents, to website applications, and even Power BI reports integrated with external tools.

That’s right, you can integrate an external tool within Microsoft Teams. You don’t have to exit Microsoft Teams to work with the tool—you can do it within the application.

This really shows how Microsoft Teams is evolving into the modern workplace tool for all your daily tasks. Are you missing a tab? Don’t worry! Get your smartest developer in action and start creating your own custom tabs.

Posting in a channel: Microsoft Teams conversations

Teams and channels are nothing without conversations. All conversations happen in chat, and are enhanced with the following features:

  • Emoticons
  • Stickers and memes
  • GIFs

If these aren't your thing, don’t worry. The fun features aren't mandatory, and you can also just use plain text. If you do use them, it might be a good idea to discuss how and when to implement them—either with the other project members, or within your organization.

In a future post in this series, I’ll go into more detail about Microsoft Teams-related governance.

SharePoint file share: Microsoft Teams 'Files' tab

The Files tab displays all of a team’s files, which are stored in the SharePoint team site.

No surprise there, right? The out-of-the-box shared documents library is used to store the files, with each channel within the team getting its own folder.

I'll go into more detail about the Files tab in your left sidebar in a future blog post.

You can work directly within the Microsoft Teams app with Files, or you can use SharePoint. That’s up to you, you're in charge! Check out this blog post for more details on SharePoint and Teams integration, and how do to adopt Teams when you already use SharePoint

Did you create a new metadata field called owner and assign owners per document? Too bad! The Microsoft Teams app won’t display your owner field. The Files interface in the Microsoft Teams app does the job, but the main disadvantage is the absence of custom metadata.

One of the greatest features in Microsoft Teams is the ability to add a document to a tab:

Add a document to a tab

The tab is extended with a conversation window. All members of the team can now see the new tab:

The tab is extended with a conversation window.

I recommend using this feature for documents you're currently working on. For example: project plans, designs, calculation sheets, or reports.

Once you're finished with the document, you can remove the tab. The conversations will remain intact, so you don’t have to worry about that part.

That's it for this second part of my Microsoft Teams guide—I hope you enjoyed it! Are you starting to feel like a rockstar yet?

Next article in the series

Guide to Becoming a Microsoft Teams Rockstar - Part 3

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