Featured image: Microsoft Teams: What can be done to counter team sprawl?


Although the Digital Workplace gained growing interest from 2017 according to Gartner, the curve for takeup of Teams really started as an effect of the Covid-19 pandemic which caused swathes of traditional office workers to shift to a home working model. During this time period, Microsoft report monthly activity use of Teams channels increase by 200 percent.

Teams went from having 20 million daily active users in November 2019 to 75 million in mid-March of 2020, at one point adding 12 million users in a single week.

The swap from on premise to home working increased inclusivity in terms of allowing those who may not normally speak up in a meeting have a voice as well as increasing the amount of work taking place outside of business hours by up to 42%. For those companies already using Office/365, the decision to start using teams was an easy no additional cost solution. Large corporations such as Accenture, Toyota, Kohler, SAP and Ernst & Young saw increased productivity from using Teams during this time. The concept of collaboration and video conferencing is not a new phenomena. Other tools such as IBM Connections and Zoom have existed for several years earlier, but all such earlier tools suffered a “sprawl” with users allowed to create their own often unmanaged share space. Companies were keen to encourage users to use these collaboration areas that usually did not require any input from the IT department. According to a post on a Microsoft site, “People create the sprawl then blame IT when they can’t find the information/files/chat or whatever [else] they want.” Dealing with Sprawl is not a new concept. We can take learnings from the use of earlier tools such as IBM Connections which in their own way also enabled end users to create sprawl out of the control of regular IT processes.

What can be done to counter Team sprawl?

Any plan to deal with Team sprawl would usually include at least these key pointers.

  1. Ensure Teams always have a person responsible for their existence and management. All too often Teams are created with just one owner, and if that owner leaves the organisation the Team can be ‘orphaned’ meaning that nobody is assigned to administer that team and its potential vast corporate knowledge. Identifying such ‘orphaned’ Teams is not an easy process, but there are tools to help. Enforcing more than just one owner of any team is another helpful policy to avoid orphans.

  2. Wherever possible, create an approval process for the creation of Teams. While this is not meant to stifle Teams creation, it will ensure that at least one person (perhaps an employees Head of department) authorises the creation of the collaboration space. This person can also perform checks to ensure policies such as “two owners” is met. This is not meant to be an additional burden on the IT department.

  3. Hand in hand with the earlier 2 pointers, to assist with finding teams and administering those teams, deploy a naming convention. This is of particular importance in a large Office tenant. There is no place in an enterprise for multiple “My first team” or “My team test 99”. It is much better to adopt a naming policy which at least includes the country, or organisational unit (eg department) in the name. In conjunction with this point, is the ability to set templates on teams. Such templates can already contain all of the resources needed by the team, and can enforce naming standards. Additionally this will make working with certain team types more standard and therefore easier to find.

  4. By default, Microsoft assume at the point of creation of a team, the owner will know when the Team should expire. A much better technique is to find a tool that tracks lack of activity in a Team, and then notify the owners that no activity has taken place for a time period (such as 1 or 3 months) and allow a team to be archived or deleted.

  5. Rather than deleting Teams with no activity. Consider locking a team so that users no longer have access, but corporate data can be kept and at some later day be unlocked and accessible. This can also help with e-discovery requirements, where proof is needed that data has not been changed for a certain time period, and is also needed for legal discovery.

  6. Possibly the single most impactful idea to break Teams sprawl is to make existing teams easier to find, which in itself is likely to reduce the number of duplicate teams created. While the Search features in Teams are exceptional, it is not yet possible to store meta data in a Team configuration. For instance, the ability to mark a team as “Internal use only” or “Confidential” could assist with sensitivity. Likewise meta data such “Finance” or “HR use” can quickly identify the potential content of the team. Therefore the final idea for breaking Team sprawl is to apply meta data to teams to make them easier to find.

Our solution, BCC Affirmatic, is all-in one Microsoft governance tool to manage teams sprawl effectively. BCC is a company that for over 20 years has focused on building tools for key collaborative functions. Bringing its knowledge from the IBM Connections toolset right up to date with Microsoft Teams solutions. BCC offer tools that can help with Teams sprawl and other Teams and Sharepoint challenges. For further information go to our website at www.bcchub.com.


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