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Office 365 Groups, explained

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Office 365 Groups vs security groups: What are Office 365 Groups? Benjamin Niaulin explains how to use an Office 365 Group, and how they differ from Azure Active Directory security groups.

Office 365 Groups provide a way to centralize membership for multiple Microsoft products in one place and apply policies at the project or team level instead of each product. It’s quickly becoming the new Active Directory Security Group of the File Share days.

You can expect to be working with groups more and more as it becomes the main membership provider for everything Microsoft in the cloud. That’s why we decided to create the following series of articles, to help you get familiar with Groups.


The Office 365 Groups Series

  1. Office 365 Groups explained
  2. Office 365 Groups – what you get and what to use
  3. 3 ways to manage who can create Office 365 Groups (new!)


What is an Office 365 group?

Office 365 Groups is a cross-application membership service in Office 365. Each Office 365 Group lives in Azure Active Directory, has a list of members, and is attached to that group's related Office 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 Office 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 AAD.

Office 365 Groups vs security groups

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

Well, it’s very simple. When an Office 365 Group is created, there are little robots, all behind the scenes, that automatically create a working space attached to that Group, in the various Microsoft Products.

When that Group is created in the AAD, 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 Site Collection.”
  • 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.

Office 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.

Office 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 Office 365 Groups in the next article of this series, but here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • By default, anyone in your organization can create Office 365 Groups
  • There are various ways to restrict and manage self-service provisioning for Office 365 Groups.
  • A Group gets created automatically from any of these products
    • Planner – New Plan
    • SharePoint – New Site Collection
    • Outlook – New Group
    • Power BI – New Workspace
    • Teams – New Team
    • Etc.
  • You can still create without being connected to a Group (like a Standalone Site Collection for example, but it’s not by default)
  • 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
  • You can apply a classification to Groups which applies to all connected products, and soon security policies will automatically be applied based on the classification.
Office 365 Groups Explained

How to create an Office 365 group in the admin center

If you have self-service group creation enabled, then users can create an Office 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 an Office 365 group:

1. In the admin center, go to the Groups > Groups page and select Add a group.

Select Groups > Groups in the admin center, then click Add a group.

2. Under Choose a group type, select Office 365, then click Next.

Under Choose a group type, select Office 365

3. On the Basics page, choose a name for the group and—if you'd like to—enter a description. Then click Next.

Choose a name and description for the group

4. On the Settings page, 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 Microsoft Teams to your group. Then click Next.

Edit the settings of your new group

5. On the Owners page, 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.

Enter the names of the group owners

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

Review all settings, make chances, then select Create group

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

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

Users can add themselves (or request approval) through Outlook, or you can add them yourself in the admin center once the new group has appeared on the Groups > Groups page.

To add members (or own ers) to an Office 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).

View all and manage owners or members

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

Select the owners or members you want to add

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.

How to use Office 365 Groups in your organization

It’s no secret, times have changed in the tech world. We’re looking at cars that drive themselves, catching a ride using an app on your phone with automatic payment, creating and publishing videos that work on any device and any connection with little to no effort.

Then, we get to the office.

Often, you’re stuck with Office 2007 or 2010 if you’re lucky, or a complicated file share and no way to get the user experience we have come to expect from technology.

That’s why today, per a recent TechCrunch survey, 83% of CIOs experienced some level of unauthorized provisioning of cloud services—shadow IT.

It’s easier to spin up something in the cloud, get things done for your team, than trying to deal with IT and often not getting what we want.

The Truth About Working in Today's Tech World

By providing Groups to your organization, you’re providing choice to your teams, projects and business units. Let them create a “Group” and, within it, use whatever technology best fits their needs.

It might start with Email, a Calendar and some Files when the project starts, then grow six months later to a full-featured SharePoint Site Collection and Planner to manage tasks.


NEXT ARTICLE IN THE SERIES
2. Office 365 Groups – What You Get and What to Use


Want to learn how to leverage Office 365 Groups while keeping your Office 365 environment tidy and secure? Download our curated guideOffice 365 Groups Governance, for practical tips on achieving a balanced approach to Office 365.

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