Microsoft Teams has a relatively flat structure that provides little opportunity for organization beyond the naming of the team. However, one of the ways you can help your organization structure Teams is through the organization of channels.
Within Teams, channels are a way to separate and organize conversation and content into logical areas. We frequently put a lot of emphasis around information architecture in Office 365 using taxonomy, site structure and metadata but we should also be doing this for how we organize our channels within Teams. In this article we are going to show some simple tips for organizing channels, why it’s important and how you can organize tabs within channels to provide a consistent experience for users.
Why are channels important in structuring your teams experience?
Channels are important in structuring content around Teams mainly because it’s really the only way! Since Teams themselves are flat in structure with no ability to add additional metadata or nest teams, channels can provide structure in three main ways:
Channels allow you to separate conversations around topic, process, tasks or any way that you like. Since Teams don’t have the concept of hashtags yet, splitting conversations via channels provides a much needed structure to the various conversations that you have within a Team.
Different types of teams will naturally have different ways of structuring channels as well. If you have a Team created around a well defined process, like devoted to a project, you might have your channels split up based on pre-defined stage gates or project process areas:
If you have a Team for a community of practice that discusses different topic areas, then you might have your channels for the following areas:
If you have a collaboration area within a department, you might split up your channels based on various works streams as seen below:
Separation of content
When creating a new channel, a new folder is created in the Shared Document library of the SharePoint site for that Team. This means that you have the ability to organize your content via channels if you want to. It also means that having a channel called ‘Documents’ or ‘Document Conversations’ is a bad idea. Soon Microsoft will also be releasing the concept of Private Channels that will further impact this structure as I assume that permissions will be applied to the folder that is part of that private channel.
Configuration of tabs
What makes Teams a killer productivity app is that you can also show other content using Tabs. This content isn’t limited to Office 365 and can show external applications. Since this is available on a per channel basis, you can really customize the experience across your channels making it much more useful.
Naming channels in Teams
The naming of your channels are extremely important because at a glance this is what your users will see when they join a Team. The first thing you want to do is have a naming convention for your channels. This is important because you want to maintain some consistency across different Teams and how channels are named. It can be subtle but also very frustrating for your users if they are swapping between Teams and channels that are conceptually the same are all named differently.
For example, having a channel that refers to Quality Assurance discussions can be represented as ‘Quality Assurance’, ‘QA’, ‘Testing’, ‘QA – Discussions’ and other ways. Having a convention reduces the cognitive load when users switch between Teams and allows them to find the correct channel quickly and easily.
Channel Naming Tips
- Don’t use ‘conversations’ or ‘discussions’ in your channel names: It’s better to call a channel ‘Marketing’ rather than ‘Marketing Discussions’ since it is implied by being in Teams. It could make your folder name in the corresponding Shared Document library very strange (who wants to upload a document to a folder called Marketing Discussions?)
- Use numbers only to control the order that Channels appear to users: Unfortunately there is no way to control the order that channels are shown in a Team. By default the general channel appears first with all the other channels appearing alphabetically below. To get around this you can number your channels, but if you think that you will have more than 10 channels then start the channel numbering at 01, 02,..,10,11 because otherwise the ordering gets a bit crazy.
- Acronyms: Be careful using acronyms in your channel names unless it is widely understood and standardized in your organization. You might know that ‘BPC’ stands for Business Planning Cycle and use that as a channel name but it doesn’t mean that everyone else does (particularly new employees).
- Think about the search experience: Teams provides a great way to be able to filter Teams and Channels through the filter button on top of the list of teams. Having consistent naming and not using acronyms will increase the discovery of both the channels and the teams that a user could be a member of. (Thanks to @GarryTrinder for this suggestion)
Channel Tab Configuration
In Teams, you can configure tabs for each channel. In my mind, this is what makes MS Teams a Slack killer. It’s not just a great chat tool but also a great productivity tool. Just like channels, you should think about how you name and position your tabs within each channel and across channels.
Tab Configuration Tips
- Keep your Tab order consistent across Channels: Although you cannot change the order or the name of the ‘Conversations’ and ‘Files’ tab, you can add whatever tabs you like specific for each channel. Try to keep it consistent so if you have a OneNote notebook in different channels it should be in the same position.
- Use short and intuitive names for tabs with files: If you want to show a single document in a tab, the name of the tab will default to the application of the document (e.g. Word). You can easily change the name of the tab so that it shows the title of the document.
- Change the name for OneNote Notebooks: For Notebooks you don’t need to have the full name of ‘Groupname Notebook’ as the tab name. Just name it ‘Notes’ or ‘OneNote’.
If you have any more tips that you think will be useful, let me know and I will add it to the list. As always please feel free to reach out to discuss further!