Microsoft 365 Groups: How they work and how best to manage them

by | Dec 18, 2020 | Blog, Office 365 Governance, Office 365 Groups

Power collaboration with Microsoft 365 Groups.

The term “collaboration” has been a major buzzword for the past couple of years, especially in the corporate world across many sectors.

The digital age has dramatically shaken up the way work can now be done, as it has normalised working with colleagues, stakeholders and customers across different time zones, locations and work cultures.

Those of us who have worked in these fantastically variant dynamics will understand how creative, fruitful, diverse and educational collaborative working can actually be.

 

At the heart of this significant change in getting work delivered and achieving business goals is not just the internet, but also powerful new software features, such as Microsoft 365 Groups (previously known as Office 365 Groups), which make collaboration really happen.

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In this blog post, you will learn how Microsoft 365 Groups work and how your organisation can get the most out of them to drive project productivity and power collaboration across the business.

How do Microsoft Groups work?

Microsoft 365 Groups is great for project work; when you need specific team members to work on something that has defined goals, timelines and access permissions.

The structured efficiencies that working in project mode can bring about – especially via cloud computing – means that this working approach is likely to be used more and more at Enterprise level. Microsoft realises this and is revving up its focus on Groups to be the preferred working resource. If something is easy or convenient to use, it becomes popular. The ways Groups work within Microsoft 365 Enterprise aren’t that different than the way groups work in personal messaging and social media platforms. Let’s find out how:

Shareable resources

When you’ve got the project details finalised, you can use Groups to add in team members who can then crack on with their work using a shared Outlook inbox, calendar, documents library, Planner, OneNote notebook, Power BI and Roadmap (if you are using Project for the web).

If you create this Group within Yammer or Teams, it will come with a Yammer or Teams channel too. It’s worth noting that you won’t be able to have a Teams Chat if the Group was created in Yammer.

Ownership and memberships 

Group Owners (in-house employees) are admins who can set up, rename, update descriptions, add and remove people and delete conversations from the shared inbox. Members (typically in-house colleagues) have access to everything but cannot change the settings and can only add participants if you have enabled this permission. Guests (typically external consultants, partners or customers) are members from outside your organisation who have a specific set of permissions that you have set up within the Group.

There are, of course, Group limits such as the number of people you can add to a Group, how many Groups you can create, file storage and mailbox sizes, which you would need to bear in mind when creating your Groups.

Confidentiality

You can classify Groups with Microsoft’s Sensitivity Labelling policies, just as you can with relevant business documentation. Group Owners can configure privacy settings as well as giving access to Guests (external users) and unmanaged devices, which are typically those devices belonging to external users.

Grow Groups into SharePoint Site Collections

You have the option of growing a Group into a fully-fledged SharePoint Site Collection as and when the requirements of a project grow. By using Microsoft Groups 365, you’re enabling team members to work in a collaborative space and leverage one of the finest features of cloud technology.

How best to manage Microsoft 365 Groups

Many of our customers find managing Groups challenging. Here are a few suggestions which we think could help you get the most out of this Microsoft 365 feature:

1) Understand and define the Group settings clearly

Groups are objects in the Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), which means two important things:

  • Every time a SharePoint Teams Site or a new plan (within Planner) is created, a Group is automatically created too.
  • You can make Azure AD a central hub to secure, manage and govern your Groups.

Before you roll out Groups to the whole organisation – because everyone in a Group will have access to all the permissions enabled within it – you might want to pilot it first with a smaller Group based on a short-term project or even just to understand how it works with a few trusted colleagues. You could use Microsoft 365 Reports in the admin center to monitor how Groups is being adopted.

2) Establish a governance strategy before deploying Groups

Once you have understood how Microsoft 365 Groups work and how you want your organisation to use them, we recommend you spend some time deciding how you want these Groups to be governed before you roll this out to your organisation. Consider the following:

  • When and why can a Group be provisioned?
  • How long does a Group need to exist?
  • How can changes (e.g. caused by compliance or structural requirements) be managed and reflected in a Group?

It’s worth looking into the naming and expiration policies that Microsoft has made available too, to help you determine how long a Group needs to exist.

3) Roll out Groups in stages

Having established a governance strategy, we recommend Groups should be rolled out in stages, instead of all at once across your organisation. In this way, you can:

  • Monitor how effective and productive the Groups are turning out to be
  • You can guide users when they create Groups in ways that suit your organisation

4) Use Azure AD entitlement management for identity governance

You can streamline the way access permissions are given to users to work in Groups, Sites and applications with Entitlement Management in Azure AD. It automates the processes of accessing:

  • Request workflows
  • Assignments and reviews
  • Expiration policies

5)  Provide guidance on communication channels used in Groups

While it can be assumed that users will have a strong idea of when to use the Outlook mailbox, Teams Channel and Yammer threads to communicate, it’s best to have guidance in place to:

  • Ensure all conversations are kept streamlined and on topic for consistency and productivity
  • Get the most out of each communication channel. For instance, a question that needs a quick reply ought to be sent in Teams, whereas a document that needs multiple signoff ought to be mailed over via the Outlook mailbox.

Microsoft 365 Groups is a feature – not a product!

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s important to understand that Microsoft 365 Groups is not a product, unlike SharePoint, Teams and OneDrive. It’s a feature that can help make project-based work get done in a productive, collaborative and streamlined manner, with the right governance strategy in place.

Yet, there’s no doubt, Microsoft 365 Groups are complex objects and the native experience provides very little control with all users being able to create Microsoft 365 Groups. As a result, IT Teams can become overwhelmed with by the uncontrolled creation of objects in Active Directory and Exchange.

ProvisionPoint 365 helps organisations better manage the creation of Microsoft 365 Groups with a comprehensive provisioning solution. Administrators can easily control who can create Groups and implement approval processes as part of the provisioning process, as well as ensuring the correct lifecycle management rules are implemented when a Microsoft 365 Group is provisioned.

 

Contact us to find out more about Microsoft Groups 365 governance, provisioning and lifecycle management.

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