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Taming Teams: Changing the Channel

2019 is likely to be known as a year when many larger organizations began a methodical, stepwise transition of users to Microsoft Teams for both collaboration and communications. 

In this ongoing “Taming Teams” series of articles, I sort through the confusion, decode the messaging, decipher the meaning, and separate the reality from the marketing fluff with the ultimate goal of helping you best leverage Teams to deliver quantifiable business improvement.

A Microsoft Team’s team, as I discussed in my previous “Taming Teams” post, defines a group of collaborators. A Team’s channel is where work happens.

A channel is like a meeting room for discussions that also allows you to store documents related to a specific topic, project, or process. A team created for a specific client might have channels representing different projects for that client. You might create a team for each department and channels for each project the department works on. A team created for a sales district might have channels for each account. A team for a class might have channels with information about each assignment. Anyone on a team can see conversations in any team channel and add to channel conversations. 

Unlike Slack, Teams currently does not support private channels, a decision that has been the source of much negative feedback and more than 15,000 thousand votes to include. As of late 2018, Microsoft has said that it’s working on adding private channels. For now, you need to create a separate private team as a workaround to a private channel.

Each new team comes with a general channel. By default, anyone can post messages to the general channel. While you can’t delete the general channel, you can restrict who can post to this channel via the team settings. You might only allow owners to post or let anyone to post but with a reminder that messages in the general channel are shared with everyone.


Microsoft Teams channels

I would recommend only allowing owners to be able to post to the general channel for most teams. If you need a general discussion channel, you can create it separately.

You can create up to 200 channels per team. You add a channel by clicking on the three dots (…) to the right of the team name on the sidebar and choosing “add channel” from the popup menu. For a new channel, you have three attributes to set, as shown below. 

Microsoft Teams channel attributes
  1. Channel Name --  must be unique within the team; you get a “Channel name already taken” warning if you try to use a duplicate name. The channel name can be up to 50 characters in length and can contain most characters, but note that ~#%&*{}+/\:<>?|'" are NOT supported. In the sidebar and team channel list, channel names more than about 30 characters are truncated, so in practice you should try and limit channel names to fewer than 30 characters.
  2. Channel Description -- intended to help team members understand the purpose of the channel; these can be slightly longer than 1,000 characters. In a strange application of permissions, any member of a team seems to be able to edit channel descriptions (I would classify this as a bug). 
  3. Favorite Selection -- when you create a channel, you can select to have it automatically be a favorite for all members of the team.

As a favorite, the channel stays visible in the list under the team name, provided that the team is also a  favorite. Channels that aren’t favorites collapse under the heading “X more channels,” in which case you need to click on the “>,” as shown below, to view them.

Microsoft Teams channel

Clicking the star to the right of the channel name allows users to favorite channels on their own.

A user can unfavorite a channel by clicking the three dots to the right of the channel’s name (or by right clicking the channel name) and selecting “Remove favorite.”

Getting to more Teams channels

Using the same popup menu, you can get a unique email address for a channel. This allows individual emails or entire email threads to easily be included in a specific channel’s conversation stream simply by CC’ing the channel’s email address or by forwarding an email to the channel’s email address. Emails sent to a channel can include attachments and images and complex formatting is preserved.

Getting a link to a channel allows you to share a link that any authorized user can click to jump directly to a specific channel within a specific team. This is useful as the number of teams and channels within your organization begins to grow.

Continue to the next page: Tabs

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