Unpopular opinion: Do not restrict users from creating Teams (Office 365 Groups)Alex Fields
I realize that advocating for no (or very limited) boundaries on who can create Teams puts me in the minority. When I look out across the community, I mostly see consultants in this space suggesting the opposite is a superior approach for various reasons–that the privilege should be constrained heavily.
Especially since the advent of Teams, the advice seems to go something like this: “The first thing you want to do is take away privileges to create Office 365 Groups, and then designate a few select individuals who hold the keys to the collaboration kingdom.”
Then the customer has to implement their own custom “New Team approval process” and do other weird things. Plenty of extra work generated for consultants and the IT department.
Maybe I’m still missing something… but I just haven’t found there to be too many cases where I would genuinely be able to recommend that approach. The self-service aspect of Teams is kind of like… the whole point. Or one of the major points anyway.
Sure, you can name specific scenarios where you would want to exclude limited groups of people from this privilege–if that were really important to you. For instance if you have some part-time contractors or volunteers coming in and out frequently.
But I find these cases to be pretty rare, and on the whole, my attitude is that your typical full-time employed information worker should be able to freely create Teams, associate with others of their choosing and collaborate at their leisure. You know, as was the intention of the product to begin with.
In this post I want to address the most common objection to the default position (anyone can create Teams), and the answer to that objection, as I see it.
But there are going to be too many groups!
So what? Define too many groups. 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? Don’t worry–you still have room (maximum is currently 500,000).
Microsoft does not restrict this privilege for any of their full time employees–that’s a lot of people. And I love that philosophy! The trade-off, of course, is that they end up with some very impressive numbers–check out this PowerPoint slide from their internal Core Services team, shared recently at Ignite:
You saw that right–more Office 365 Groups than total users. But still just south of the half-way mark for the number of total supported groups in a tenant–so they have plenty of room left to grow!
Microsoft doesn’t sweat this sprawl, so why should you?
Because too many groups = confusion, fatigue, and poor end-user experience
Technically we have two major camps of people who discourage open Group creation.
The first camp is made up of people who are still possessed by what I call the legacy or control mindset. These well meaning individuals are usually afraid of giving up too much control and too many permissions, and in general they will attempt to place restrictions on their user base. Their false belief is that users are bound within the structures they set, and if they cannot see the problem, then the problem does not exist.
I mostly ignore the first camp, as it is only a matter of time before these dinosaurs die off entirely–the world won’t tolerate them much longer.
But the second camp is made up of really smart people–people who “get it” and really do care about the end users. They have seen the negative impacts of Groups sprawl–which is a real thing, again especially since the advent of Teams. In fact belonging to too many Teams can lead to something known internally at Microsoft as “Teams fatigue” (or so I have been told).
In short, you don’t want your users throwing up their hands in frustration, and tossing out the baby with the bathwater.
But I feel the same way about taking away rights to create Groups–it is like using a sledge hammer when the job really called for a fine chisel.
The solution: Exercise smarter governance
When it comes to governance, the very best thing you can do here to mitigate sprawl is not to remove rights on creating groups, but to implement a Groups expiration policy. This has recently been improved in that only inactive Groups will be expired–therefore if a Group is still active, it is auto-renewed. So setting this policy down to even 6 months (180 days) is not that risky anymore, and can help you regularly sweep out debris and clutter.
Some groups will just fizzle and die. I know. It’s sad. But such is life. Don’t sweat it; others will take off and produce an abundance of value for the organization! But you can’t predict who is going to start the next big thing. And the owners are going to get a notification with an option to renew anyway, so quit your worrying!
Another important piece of governance magic you will want to implement is retention labels, so that information workers can mark content that they want to have preserved, even if a group does eventually die off from expiry. In fact, you may consider implementing a retention policy to provide a blanket protection for the organization.
Remember that groups will still be expired even if content is protected by retention, but it remains eDiscoverable / “Content searchable“–for as long as the duration of that retention.
There are many other “soft governance” things you can do here, as well; for example using good descriptions for core Teams, and including a Team picture / avatar can go a long ways towards helping people quickly identify their major groups when navigating a sea of objects.
And with regard to governance in general I have a whole bunch more to say on that topic–in an upcoming post we’ll talk about its relationship to education and training. But for now…
In my own company, we also have not restricted the creation of Groups. True, this has lead to some pretty crazy Groups floating around out there–I think we have one that is dedicated to Foosball for example. And yes, I probably belong to too many Teams myself.
But here’s the thing, if I did work for an organization that restricted my capability to freely create and to associate with people… I would probably leave.
Not everyone feels this way, but to me it sends a subtle message: that I’m not important, or that my ideas aren’t important. Maybe some other people are more important, and get to make the decisions about what important things are. Well, that’s just dandy. I hope they enjoy their highly important work. Without me.
Say what you will about that–I love being able create a stage on demand–to step up to the mic, and start a conversation. I suppose that’s why I have blog. And here’s the thing: you can’t predict who those people are going to be, and who is going to succeed at starting up something really great.
Of course, I agree and realize that more of your Groups than not will likely whither and die. But that is not so different from anything in Nature. Contrary to popular opinion, Nature produces a lot of waste actually–flourishing abundance requires waste. Good ideas are usually born out of a giant compost heap of bad ones, and success is usually preceded by many, many failures.
So yes, you will belong to Groups that go nowhere. And yes, you may even experience some disappointment when your ideas aren’t the ones that gain a lot of support or attention internally. But you know what? That’s okay. Because the cream tends to rise to the top. Your attention will ultimately land where it needs to, and if you are persistent, then you will find the right channels in which to contribute, and broadcast your own voice.