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Office 365/Microsoft 365 Groups, explained

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Microsoft 365 groups vs security groups: What are Microsoft 365 groups? Benjamin Niaulin explains how to use a Microsoft 365 group, and how they differ from Azure Active Directory security groups. 

Microsoft 365 Groups provides a way to centralize membership for multiple Microsoft products in one place. It’s the new Active Directory security group of the file share days. 

You can expect to be working with Microsoft 365 Groups more and more as it is the main cross-application membership service for all of the integrated products in Microsoft 365. That’s why we decided to create the following series of articles, to help you get familiar with Microsoft 365 Groups. 


Dig into our Microsoft 365 Groups series:


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What is an Office 365/Microsoft 365 group?

Microsoft 365 Groups (formerly known as Office 365 Groups) is a cross-application membership service in Microsoft 365. Each Microsoft 365 group lives in Azure Active Directory, has a list of members, and is attached to that group’s related Microsoft 365 workloads, including a SharePoint team site, Exchange mailbox, Planner, Power BI, OneNote—and, optionally, a team in Microsoft Teams.

You may already be familiar with the concept of a group. It’s that thing you put people inside of and then grant them permissions to access your folders and files.

When you created a security group in the past, for your file shares or even in SharePoint, they would be stored in what we call Active Directory.

Today, you have Microsoft 365 Groups. When a group is created, it’s stored in the same place you’re used to: your tenant’s Active Directory, also referred to as Azure Active Directory, or Azure AD.

Microsoft 365 Groups is a membership service that allows users within your organization to collaborate across the Microsoft 365 suite. Microsoft 365 Groups works with the Microsoft 365 tools you already use to create an interface that is ideal for shared projects and group work.  

Through Microsoft 365 Groups, you can make sure that everyone has access to the tools they need to get the job done, enabling seamless collaboration across your organization. There’s no need to set permissions manually—when you add a user to the group, they’ll automatically get the permissions they need. 

Microsoft 365 Groups provides a solution to the old distribution list model, providing members with access to a set of shared workspaces that allow them to work together from a distance while maintaining productivity. 


Office 365/Microsoft 365 groups vs security groups

So, what’s the big deal then? Why is everyone talking about Microsoft 365 Groups now?

Well, it’s very simple. When a Microsoft 365 group is created, there are little robots, all behind the scenes, that automatically create a workspace attached to that group, in the various Microsoft products.

When that group is created in Azure AD, the robots, or provisioning service if you will, start knocking on each of the products’ doors.

  • Provisioning Robot: “Hey Exchange, what would you give for this group of people?”
  • Exchange: “Here’s a Mailbox, it comes with an email address for the group to send and receive emails, as well as a calendar.”
  • Provisioning Robot: “Hey SharePoint, do you have something for this group?”
  • SharePoint: “Sure! I can give you a team site.”
  • Provisioning Robot: “I know you’re new here Microsoft Teams, but what would you give this group?”
  • Teams: “I can give them a team, it’s a chatroom within which they can create channels to live chat.”

And the story continues with Planner, Power BI, and Yammer.

Microsoft 365 Groups is not a product, nor does it compete with any of the others. It’s just like your security groups, but with a provisioning robot and a sense of centralized management.

Microsoft 365 Groups is not a product, nor does it compete with any of the others. It’s just like your security groups, but with a provisioning robot and a sense of centralized management.

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We cover management and governance of Microsoft 365 Groups later in the series, but here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • By default, anyone in your organization can create Microsoft 365 groups
  • There are various ways to restrict and manage self-service creation for Microsoft 365 groups.
  • A group gets created automatically when you do the following in these products:
    • Planner: Create a new plan
    • SharePoint: Create a new site collection
    • Outlook: Create a new group
    • Power BI: Create a new workspace
    • Teams: Create a new team
    • Etc.
  • Each group can have up to 10 owners and 1000+ members/subscribers
  • External members are called guests and are not the same as external users in SharePoint
  • Groups can be private or public, although private does not mean hidden
Screenshot of diagram showing different elements of Microsoft 365 that are connected by Microsoft 365 groups.

How to create an Office 365/Microsoft 365 group in the admin center

If you have self-service group creation enabled, then users can create a Microsoft 365 group from Outlook or other apps. But as an admin, if you need to create or delete groups, add or remove members, or customize how they work, the Microsoft 365 admin center is the place to do it.

To create a Microsoft 365 group:

1. In the Microsoft 365 admin center, go to the Active groups page (underneath “Groups” in the left-hand navigation) and select Add a group.

Screenshot of active groups in Microsoft admin center

2. On the “Group type” page, select Microsoft 365, then click Next.

Screenshot of user selecting group type in Microsoft admin center

3. Choose a name for the group and, if you’d like to, enter a description. Then click Next.

Screenshot of user setting group name and description in Microsoft admin center

4. Enter the names of at least one person to be the owner of the group (we recommend assigning at least two owners to avoid winding up with an orphaned group). Click Next.

Screenshot of user assigning group owners in Microsoft admin center

5. Enter a unique email address for the group and select a privacy option (public or private). You can also choose whether or not to add an associated Microsoft Teams team to your group. Then click Next.

Screenshot of user setting group email address and privacy settings in Microsoft admin center

6. Review all your settings, make any changes, then select Create group.

Screenshot of user reviewing group info in Microsoft admin center

How to add members (and owners) to an Office 365/Microsoft 365 group in the admin center

Once the group has been created, you can add members and owners and configure additional settings.

You can add users to a group from the Microsoft 365 admin center once the new group has appeared on the Active groups page.

To add members (or owners) to a Microsoft 365 group:

1. Select the group name from the list. Under the Members tab, select View all and manage members (or View all and manage owners to add or change group owners).

Screenshot of details for a Microsoft 365 group in the admin center.

2. Select Add members (or Add owners), choose the users you want to add, then click Save changes.

Screenshot of user adding members to a group in Microsoft 365 admin center

The group should appear in Outlook with all members (and owners) assigned to it.

For more details on creating a group in the Microsoft 365 admin center, check out the official Microsoft documentation.


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