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How to plan for the setup of a Team

Setting up a new Team with its appropriate channels requires some planning. In this article we provide some advice on what to be aware of for setting up a good Team structure.
How to plan for the setup of a Team

This morning a very pertinent question was raised by one of our Facebook community members where she was experiencing a problem in naming the channels for her newly created Team.

Traditionally it’s to the project manager the project members go to find the information they need but do not yet have access to. And the project manager provides that information either orally, by email, or at meetings. Now with Teams it is possible to let that information reside openly for everybody to access when they need to. This is a must if the project members are to be able to work independently, distributed (in both time and place) and digitally.

So for the project manager, a new task arise: how do I want to manage the communication and collaboration having access to the Teams platform?

One aspect that is important is to have appropriate knowledge of the Teams platform and its intended use. But will only take you that far, as Microsoft has made the Teams platform flexible enough to fit every kind of group and its needs. So a lot of responsibility falls on the project manager in finding the optimal structure.

But this gives rise to the challenge for the project manager on how to structure that “self-service” information pool, for both information retrieval and for communication and collaboration purposes.

The question raised was this the following:

Magnus, could you give some recommendations about how to think when creating/choosing which channels to use in a project Team? I mean what structure is smartest, simple and easy for all to use/follow? Same names of channels and Sharepoint files, Onenote books, Planner “buckets” etc..

It is good to separate different activity areas, especially if all members are not working with every part of the project. But on the other hand – they would need to shift channels to keep up with what’s happening in the project as a whole… 

I have understood that it is good to think about the structure in advance, since it became a bit complicated (sync etc) when I changed names of channels after a while…

Yes, it is true that renaming a channel is something that should be avoided (at least at the time of writing, as the connected logic in SharePoint will not follow suit which lead to complications) so having a we-though through structure already at the outside is highly recommended (also for the purpose of providing stability for the people who will be working in the project).

Objectives for setting up a good structure

Let’s start by taking a look at the possible objectives be for setting up a good structure for the Team.

  1. Allowing people to easily find the information that is relevant for them and their specific work
  2. Allowing for people to easily post and interact with others, knowing that they are doing this in the right place, where future retrieval will be easy
  3. Allowing the project members to be able to focus and concentrate on the task at hand, having only the relevant information at sight when they work in Teams (and not being disturbed by, for that point in time, irrelevant conversations, information and activities)
  4. Provide a sense of the project itself, that is professional and well-managed

Checklist for coming to grips with the relevant structure of a Team

  1. Is there a natural division of the deliverables in the project? Are there work areas where people will be working tightly together, and where a channel for that work would be utterly relevant for them? Would their conversations be centered around specific files, notes and activities? If instead everybody will be working together on the deliverables, it would make less sense in having one channel for each deliverable, and instead it would be possible to have one channel and then center the conversations around topics instead, like a specific file, a specific e-mail, a specific note.
  2. How close collaboration do you foresee in the project? Who will be working together and who will be working separately? The tighter you work together with someone, the more relevant that work becomes. If you would have to switch channels for that work to proceed it would not feel efficient, I would believe.
  3. How do you foresee that people will want to access the information? By the Teams app? By the mobile app? If you want to promote the use of mobile, you need to factor in the complexity it amplifies. One way of doing this is to document and communicate the ways you see that people always will be able to reach the specific information. For example, if you plan to keep the meeting minutes in OneNote, in the “Meetings” channel, you can make sure to have a tab that links directly to the meeting minute section, and then you inform the members that the default way to access a meeting note page is to go via the Teams app. This will provide stability for the members, where otherwise it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the setup (not only yours, but the Office 365 complexity).
  4. Have you been able to make yourself a view of how each project member is expected to interact in the Team? If not, take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of each project member, and based on this person’s ToR or project role, visualize how the person would need to work in order to accomplish their tasks. Do you see the scenarios running smoothly? Or do you get a sense that some scenario would either be too complex, too illogical or just not intuitive enough?

Documentation of a Team

Also for the planning of a Team it is good to start to document the possible structure. It helps the analysis work, and makes it easier to visualize how the people of the project will be able to work in the real Team.

Channel Description Tabs and resources
General The default channel. Will be used to share an overview of what the team wants to achieve such as a project charter or who’s who in the team.
Will also be used for new team member onboarding and ot he high-level information that a new team member would find useful.
Onboarding guidance
Meetings We will schedule our project meetings in this channel and have conversations before, during and after the specific meeting in its meeting thread. We will

Meeting notes

Deliverables We will work on the deliverables of the project in this channel.
Conversations around documents.
Activities (Planner)

Microsoft resources

I took a look at what Microsoft has to say about the setup of a Team and there are some good information at: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/MicrosoftTeams/teams-channels-overview. There’a description of what channels are, as well as a section “Example Teams” that gives a good sense of what channels different kind of Teams will do with (no example project, however).

On the page https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/best-practices-organizing Microsoft provide the following advice on how to think of channels:

Channels within a team should be thought of as topics or workstreams to aid the team in organizing their work to deliver on their join objectives. There is no specific number of channels that should be created. Each team should craft channels based on their work, priorities and style.

Some tips & tricks

  1. When naming channels, remember that the channels will be ordered alphabetically after the General channel.
  2. Make sure to use human-centered language when naming the channels that people are going to easily understand
  3. If you have a Team with many channels make sure your Team members use the “Favorite a channel” feature to control the channels that they automatically see when navigating to the Team.
  4. When you are working on coming up with the structure of the Team, do try to document and write down how you think, even if it feels very basic and not of much value. Using OneNote for this is very powerful. Next time you come back to the work of finding the best structure for your Team, you have a good starting point.

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