On 27 March 2020 I asked, via Twitter, whether organisations that rolled out MS Teams will wonder in the future who created all the random (and randomly-named) SharePoint sites.
The reason for this question was because many organisations, scrambling to establish ways for staff to work from home, decided to make use of MS Teams in their (often newly implemented) Office 365 suite of apps.
I have seen multiple organisations since late 2019 ask ‘who created all those SharePoint sites?’ when they reviewed the list. The current COVID-19 work-from-home situation will only make this situation ‘worse’ and, without effective oversight or controls, result in the creation of multiple uncontrolled SharePoint sites.
Unlike other products like Zoom, Whatsapp, Facetime and Skype, however, MS Teams is not a standalone product, but a core element in the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem.
The key point is this – every Team in MS Teams has a linked SharePoint site (and an Exchange mailbox, where all the chat content is stored). You can’t disable these options.
What happens if you create a Team in MS Teams?
The good thing about the one-to-one chat element of MS Teams is that it’s relatively intuitive and easy to use, including on the mobile app. You only need to tell users it’s like Skype or Whatsapp, but for internal user only, and most pick it up quickly.
The Teams part of MS Teams is not quite as intuitive, but early adopters generally understand the basic concepts – that a Team has members, and you can have multiple chat channels for each Team.
Once end-users understand how a Team works (and this can take some time because one-to-one chat can include multiple people), they might notice this option at the bottom left of the app:
Creating a new team sounds like a great idea, so end-users may try:
My guess is that end-users are more likely to want to ‘build a team from scratch’ as shown below, because the second option doesn’t really make sense.
There is a good chance they will want the Team to be ‘Private’, although may not fully understand what this means. A Public Team sounds like a Yammer Group (or Community).
So far, so good, the end-user can give the Team any name they like:
At the bottom of the naming screen is the option to ‘Create’. The end-user is then invited to add members to their new Team. This seems a fairly obvious step, and they can add whoever they want. New members are by default ‘Members’ but they can be changed to ‘Owners’ if necessary. There is no control over this process.
The new team now appears on the left-hand menu of MS Teams:
The new team opens at the default ‘General’ channel.
On the main part of the Team, the following options are offered:
- Along the top, ‘Posts’, ‘Files’, ‘Wiki’ and a + to add more applications. (Hint – the ‘Files’ option points to the SharePoint site that has been created behind the scenes).
- Across the middle, three options to ‘Add more people’, ‘Create more channels’ and ‘Open the FAQ’
- At the bottom, the option to ‘Start a new conversation’ with various other options including the ‘Meet now’ video option.
The end-user can now get on with chatting, sharing files, and adding apps to do other things.
But what else has happened?
As noted above, the ‘Files’ tab in the General channel gives a clue to the existence of the connected SharePoint site. End-users may not care terribly much about this, for them it provides the option to create, upload, share and collaborate on files.
A new Office 365 Group is created
But before we get to the SharePoint site, it’s important to understand the one-to-one relationship between a Team in MS Teams and an Office 365 Group. If you do not know what an Office 365 Group is, please read this Microsoft guidance on Office 365 Groups.
In very simple terms:
- Every new Team in MS Teams creates a new Office 365 Group.
- The Owner of the Office 365 Group is the Owner of the team; the members of the Group are the Members of the team, as added by the person who created the Team.
The new Office 365 Group appears in the list of Groups in the Office 365 Admin portal, as shown below. Access to this part of the Admin portal is normally restricted to Global Admins (who would normally be responsible for creating other types of AD Groups, such as Security Groups and Distribution Lists.
A new Exchange mailbox has been created
Note that the process has also created an Exchange mailbox with a Group email address. The new Exchange mailbox will now appear in the Outlook client of everyone in the Team – something they are unlikely to notice.
As noted above, all the chat messages in the Team are stored in a hidden folder in the Exchange mailbox for the Team.
A new SharePoint site has been created
If we go across to the SharePoint Admin portal, which is normally restricted to Global Admins and SharePoint Admins, we can see that a new SharePoint site has been created, and is owned by the ‘Group owners’.
The SharePoint Admin has had no involvement in the creation, naming, or structure of this new site. And, just to add another factor, the SharePoint Admin cannot access the site – see below.
The Team owner may not realise it, but they now have a SharePoint site. The new site’s ‘Documents’ library appears in the ‘Files’ tab as shown below.
And, just to add a confusing element, the site includes the invitation (at the bottom left) to create a new Team!
As noted above the SharePoint Admin can ‘see’ that this site exists in the list of sites but cannot actually access it. The Global Admin, on the other hand, can access it.
So the person responsible for managing SharePoint across the organisation cannot access the SharePoint site, which is not a good thing from an information governance point of view.
The reason they cannot access the site is because they were not added to the Site Collection Admin Group when the site was created. And, just to make it a bit more confusing, the ‘Users and Permissions’ section of Site Settings, where the ‘Site collection administrators’ section is found (see screenshot below), does not appear in Office 365 Group-based SharePoint sites.
So, how does the SharePoint Admin get access to this site to configure and manage it? There are two ways:
- The Global Admin can go to /_layouts/15/mngsiteadmin.aspx (after the site name URL) and add them (or a Security Group with them in it) there.
- The SharePoint Admin can click on the site details in the SharePoint admin portal and add him/herself as an Owner. This puts them in the Site Collection Admin section along with the Group Owner.
This post began with a simple question – if organisations allow end-users to create Teams to work from home, how will they manage all the SharePoint sites that are created through the process described above?
There is no one answer to this question but it’s worth understanding exactly what happens – and what else is created (including Planner) – when a Team is created. Organisations seem to go one of two ways:
- Let end users create Teams and deal with the consequences later, including attempts at auto-classification and retention policy application across the various elements of the new Office 365 Group – mailbox, SharePoint site, Team chat. This is the Microsoft default and the preference of many organisations that are don’t have compliance issues or can accept the risks of uncontrolled information stores.
- Control the creation of Teams, but make any controlled process as easy as possible for end-users to keep them working quickly, and manage the content in mailboxes, SharePoint and Teams proactively. While not the preferred option, it will help with the management of corporate information down the track.