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Taming Teams: Starting Right

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 new “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.
Microsoft has made it very easy to start with Teams. It has done so by including Teams at no additional cost with two of the three Office 365 small business licensing plans (Premium and Essentials), all of the enterprise plans (E1, E3, E5, and the new F1 Firstline worker plan), and all of the education plans. Additionally a freemium version of Teams is available for up to 300 users.
Teams provides threaded, persistent chat; can serve as a hub for teamwork, consolidating capabilities of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, and OneNote; and is evolving to replace all the capabilities of Skype for Business: IM, presence, peer-to-peer calling, audio, video conferencing, and connectivity to the PSTN. After its November 2016 introduction, Teams became generally available in March 2017 concurrent with the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla.
According to the September 2018 update from Microsoft, many organizations have started using Teams. By the numbers, it reported 329,000 organizations using Teams, 87 Fortune 100 companies using Teams, and 54 customers with 10,000 or more active Teams users. Teams is the fastest-growing business app in Microsoft history.
However, simply starting with Teams is easier than starting right. Starting is turning on the stove, throwing a few ingredients in a pot, and hoping they coalesce into an edible entrée. Sometimes this ad hoc approach works, but often it is a gastronomic or logistic fail. Starting right is finding a recipe, considering food allergies and preferences, going to the grocery store to get missing ingredients, then combining, timing, and cooking so that your meal will be ready at the right time in the right quantity with the right flavors.
Introducing or transitioning to Teams successfully should include:
  1. Defining your expectations. Are you deploying Teams as a new collaborative chat tool or intending to transition to Teams as both your primary communications and collaboration tool? How will you measure the success of your introduction of or transition to Teams? Are you expecting a reduction in email volumes, cost savings, increased user satisfaction, or speed to task completion? Do you expect adoption to happen over a specific period?
  2. Understanding what leadership is expecting. Sadly, you could possibly succeed technically with a transition to Teams but fail politically. You could drive rapid adoption and deliver great end-user satisfaction, but if your boss (or your boss’s boss) expected cost savings instead, then you wouldn’t receive the expected accolades. Beyond measurable organizational success criteria, make sure you understand the specific expectations of your leadership related to budget and timelines.
  3. Planning for and testing interoperability. Both Skype for Business and Teams provide chat, presence, calling, and meetings. While Teams works with Skype for Business, you’ll have a choice of multiple interoperability strategies, each with strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, the interoperability capabilities have been changing and evolving over time, especially related to how external participants join meetings and channels (federation versus guest access). Testing and understanding your selected interoperability approach in a lab environment before introducing Teams is critical so that you can support the situation where large groups of users only have Skype for Business, only have Teams, or have both.
  4. Piloting Teams first with “techies” and then with the business. Get your IT staffers to use Teams by letting them (making them!) use it first. IT professionals are generally happy to experiment with new technologies, although with Teams we’ve seen some pushback from current Skype for Business groups in some larger enterprises. Once your IT support staff has gained familiarity, pilot your draft rollout communications, training, and technical deployment of Teams with a targeted group of business users.
  5. Surveying pilot users and refining based on the results. Survey your pilot business users related to your communications and training. Was it too little, too much, clear, confusing? Was training provided in the right format at the right time? Was Teams easier than expected, harder? What did they find easy? What did they find hard? What didn’t work for them? Was the interoperability strategy well explained and did it work as expected? Gather testimonial quotes. Also gather support desk tickets from the pilot users. Then analyze the less favorable results and discuss how to modify your rollout process to address the problem spots.
  6. Helping users understand what to expect and when. Equipped with feedback and refinements from your initial business pilot, ensure you clearly communicate the “why” and “what’s in it for me” related to your Teams rollout. Don’t assume yet another application is necessarily going to be welcomed or embraced by all business users -- tell them how Teams will improve their days; sell it!
  7. Measuring, considering, and acting on the results. As you roll out Teams to more user groups, regularly measure and compare results with defined project objectives. Are you achieving anticipated adoption, user satisfaction, cost savings, and support ticket volumes? If yes proceed. If no, modify your technical, communications, or training approaches as required.
Certainly, planning and executing on the above steps involves time and commitment. Doing Teams right takes effort. Alternatively, if you’re a small organization, the “throwing something at the wall to see if it sticks” approach might work; this is most often the organic growth path that powered Slack, which predominantly has been adopted by smaller organizations. In larger organizations, a stepwise approach to evaluate, test, pilot, and implement Teams greatly increases your chance of delivering improved business outcomes.
I spend my time helping organizations succeed implementing communication and collaboration systems, most often within the Microsoft ecosystem, and I am committed to helping you succeed. Microsoft Teams enables new opportunities but also brings with it new obstacles and pitfalls. If you have specific questions please comment below, send me a tweet @kkieller, or message me on LinkedIn -- and join me at Enterprise Connect 2019, March 18 to 21 in Orlando, Fla., where I'll be moderating the "Transitioning to Teams: What's Your Next Move on Microsoft?"  session as well as a tutorial on the transformative impacts of artificial intelligence on UC.
If you haven't yet registered for Enterprise Connect, use the code NJPOST and save $200! Register now! Advance Rate closes this Friday, Jan. 11.