How to create an effective naming convention for Microsoft 365/Office 365 Groups

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Naming conventions are a key part of any successful governance strategy. These best practices will help you create an effective Microsoft 365 Groups naming policy.

If there’s one rule that all organizations moving to the cloud should remember, it’s this: Microsoft 365 isn’t a cloud-based version of a traditional IT environment.

Learning how to manage and get the most out of Microsoft 365 is as important—and often as difficult—as migration itself. And because users can, by default, create new groups without going through IT, Microsoft 365 Groups poses its own unique set of governance challenges.

An effective cross-product governance strategy can help your tenant stay organized and secure. And a clearly defined Microsoft 365 Groups naming convention is one of the easiest ways to ease anxiety.

How to create a Microsoft 365/Office 365 Group: a mini refresher

For newcomers, it can be quite difficult to understand what a Microsoft 365 Group is. Unlike a Teams chat or a SharePoint site, it’s not a physical function or feature that users interact with.

A Microsoft 365 Group creates individual workspaces within applications across your Microsoft 365 environment. And once a group is created, it’s stored in your Azure Active Directory.

These include:

  • An Exchange mailbox
  • A group calendar
  • An Outlook email address
  • A OneDrive file folder
  • A Teams chat channel
  • A SharePoint site collection

At the same time, when a workspace is created in any one of these applications, a Microsoft 365 Group is created by default—meaning it’s easy for end users to provision groups accidentally. Before you know it, the number of groups in your tenant have spiralled out of control: the dreaded data sprawl.

Microsoft 365 Groups is not a product, nor does it compete with any of the others. It’s actually similar to a security group, but with a provisioning robot and a sense of centralized management.

How to create an effective naming convention

Which group named “Sales” is actually active? And why is there a group called “pArTy123”?

With a naming convention in place, you can figure out the function of each Microsoft 365 Group fast—ultimately, making it easier to avoid duplicates and archive what you don’t need.

The good news? You can rely on good old fashioned education and trust to implement and maintain an effective naming convention. And it will be equally effective whether you choose to enable group creation for all end users, or just a small pool of ‘power users’.

Avoid confusing characters

A group name should clearly define its function. That way, users can identify which group to use, and whether a group they think they need has already been created.

But in order for that to work, names should avoid confusing characters like . @ / & $. These impede the reader’s ability to quickly digest information, and deter duplicate names with only small variations—i.e. “Sales”, “Sa!es”, and “$ales”.

Create formal groups

Often, the best way to avoid users creating groups is to beat them to it. If a designated group already exists and users are encouraged to use it, they’re less likely to go ahead and make messy variations themselves.

This is particularly useful for departmental groups with obvious names like “HR” or “IT”. Centrally create and formally designate groups by team, department, or project—then block those names from being used, preventing duplication.

Block specific words

As mentioned above, banning specific words that are already in use ensures consistency and curbs duplication.

Once you’ve created your formal “HR” group, ban “HR” from being used in any future group names. Blocking specific words also prevents names containing profanity or generally unsavoury language.

You can block specific words by enforcing a naming policy in your Azure Active Directory—but you’ll need an Azure AD Premium P1 or Basic EDU license.

Otherwise, you can create a list of blocked words and phrases and include it your end user training and/or written governance policies.

Require pertinent information

Even if self-service provisioning is enabled, it’s crucial that other users and IT admin can quickly deduce a group’s function.

To do that, consider making a policy requiring certain information—such as department, company, office, country, title, or state—be included in each group name.

Consider making a policy requiring certain information—such as department, company, office, country, title, or state—be included in each group name.

This is another policy that can be set through your Azure AD if you have a premium license. If not, just make it a rule and write it down.

Avoid duplication of SharePoint site groups

Microsoft 365 Groups may exist across the entire Microsoft 365 environment. But users will likely still understand and interact with IT on the basis of individual apps.

Consider this example: let’s say you’ve got a dedicated SharePoint site group for the HR department. An individual in HR might still be tempted to create a group calendar or Teams chat for their department—not knowing that it already exists.

This comes down to user education: you need to make users aware of the dangers of group duplication, and explicitly discourage teams from duplicating existing SharePoint site groups.

IT governance: a multi-step process

It can be tempting for new Microsoft 365 admins to disable user group creation entirely. But self-service functionality is part of what makes cloud computing so great in the first place!

However you decide to manage group creation, implementing a clear naming convention is an effective way to keep your Microsoft 365 environment fresh and up-to-date.

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