The Microsoft Teams Conversation

2018-02-19T19:43:27+00:00 February 19th, 2018|Office 365, Teams|

Last week I delivered a session on Microsoft Teams at an internal event, its purpose was to provide a shared level of understanding around Teams and address some of the more common questions that typically arise during client facing discussions (because let’s be honest, in the current climate you could go in to talk about tinned dog food and the conversation would still end up on Microsoft Teams). Top of the list is being able to provide a solid explanation of what Microsoft Teams is; I created my content, went away to the internet to make sure I was on-point, but instead came back with a pet hate. I’ll mention now that this post is completely subjective, and based solely on personal opinion… but here’s my thing…

What is Microsoft Teams? It seems there are far too many people out there who answer this question with the leading statement that “Microsoft Teams is replacing Skype for Business Online”. I feel that this is completely the wrong place to start a conversation in response to that question. Sure, the scheduled adoption of all Skype for Business Online capabilities by Teams ultimately means it will be a replacement solution, but by making that statement off the bat you’re immediately putting 101 other questions into their head; questions that might be answered through the natural course of a Microsoft Teams conversation if the response had started in the right place. It’s a huge miscarriage of justice not to respond to that question explaining Teams for what it is; a product that was developed to meet the collaboration needs of todays modern workplace, and how its feature set caters for that with its capabilities. This never happened, but the way some people start off explaining what Teams is you’d think it had;

Microsoft Product Dude A: “hmmm we need a new product”
Microsoft Product Dude B: “ok! You’ve seen an opportunity for something!?”
Microsoft Product Dude A: “oh, naahh, just to replace Skype for Business Online”
Microsoft Product Dude B: “no other requirements?”
Microsoft Product Dude A: “nope.”

It’s almost like the role of replacing Skype for Business Online has stolen focus away from the fact that Teams is a product unto itself that can meet a completely different set of business requirements. It’s understandable, at Ignite 2017 when Microsoft announced the long term replacement of Skype for Business Online with Teams, the Twitter world lit up. Before you knew it Jo Bloggs had received a retweet of a third hand tweet by someone who wasn’t even at ignite letting him know that Skype for Business Online will eventually be replaced by Teams – Jo had never come across Teams before (even although it was around long before Ignite), but Jo does know that it’s replacing Skype for Business Online, so that’s his “What is Teams?” go to answer. Cue the community confusion. It’s a crude example, but I think there was enough hype around that statement to cause any Teams focused conversation to immediately gravitate towards the replacement of Skype for Business, and to neglect information that would be far more relevant to answering the question “What is Teams?”. It’s like inventing a multi-story time travel machine and everyone getting excited about the elevator you’ve put in there rather than traditional stairs, whilst you’re stood there going “hellooooooo… time machine right here”

I also feel that answering the “What is Teams?” question in this fashion is hindering the adoption of Teams in general. The very term ‘replacement’ wrongly indicates that you will use one instead of the other, when in the correct circumstances it’s perfectly feasible to use both Skype for Business Online and Teams at the same time to meet different business requirements. Teams is its own product, that at this time should be adopted for its own reasons regardless of whether you use Skype for Business Online or not. When organisations adopt a new product the drivers can come from one of two sides;

Product Driven Adoption – Is where a new product surfaces in the market place that grabs a lot of focus and awareness from the industry and its leaders. When organisations look at its capabilities it forces them to ask questions of themselves; can it enhance our current ways of working? Are our current ways of working still efficient and modern when measured against the capabilities of this new product? This can be considered as the product selling itself.

Business Driven Adoption – Is where the organisation has already recognised that their current ways of working might be outdated, perhaps the organisations business and technical requirements have changed over time, or maybe new ones have come to light. In this scenario the organisation then has to review the market to see what products are available to meet their requirements.

I think the Product Driven Adoption of Microsoft Teams (the ability for the product to sell itself based on it’s feature set) has been severely handicapped by constant comparisons to Skype for Business Online capabilities and not enough conversation taking place around Teams own capabilities and the requirements that the product sets out to meet.

Organisation: “what’s Microsoft Teams?”
Partner: “Teams is replacing Skype, but it’s missing a lot of features right now”
Organisation: “when do you think it’ll be ready?”
Partner: “end of 2018”
Organisation: “ah ok, thanks”

Well that’s dead in the water then. Are we really suggesting that because Teams is yet to adopt all existing Skype for Business capabilities, there is no place for Teams in the organisation? Of course not; healthy conversation needs to take place around Teams capabilities and it’s purpose so that organisations have an absolutely rock solid understanding of the product – that’s what they should be basing their adoption decisions on. You can kill Teams interest instantly if you lead with a negative Skype for Business comparison and replacement approach.

When someone asks “What is Teams?”, we should be talking about chat based workspaces, threaded and persistent conversation, intelligent communications, meeting experiences, connectors, tabs, apps, and streamlined productivity…. things that make Teams what it is. If the first words out your mouth are “Teams is replacing Skype for Business” then quite frankly you need a good tap on the head – you can’t make statements like that without providing any context. Now don’t get me wrong, the Microsoft aspiration of replacing Skype for Business Online with Teams is absolutely a large point of discussion, but it’s a far easier discussion to have if you’ve already provided a correct explanation of what Teams is in the first instance. People will have context and understanding of where Teams positions itself, and instead of a flurry of questions you’ll likely receive an “ah yeah ok that makes sense” response – because it does.

Did I mention that “Teams is replacing Skype for Business Online” is absolutely the wrong way to start off answering the question “what is Microsoft Teams?”

If you have the knowledge, you also have the responsibility; If you ask someone whether they’re familiar with Teams, and they come back saying “yeah, it’s replacing Skype for Business right?”… do them the curtesy of correcting their understanding. That’s not what Teams is, that’s just them repeating something that’s already been announced (they probably saw Jo’s tweet). Everyone knows that Team’s is replacing Skype long term, so don’t ever make the mistake of assuming that reply means they have an understanding of what Teams actually is – they probably don’t.

I’m fairly passionate about Microsoft Teams, so I feel that having positive conversation around it that increases understanding, also aids adoption. I guess you could argue that its adoption is inevitable, and if we sit back and wait then Skype for Business will be retired and everyone will naturally transition to Teams down the line anyway. But part of that passion is a lot to do with what I think Teams can bring to the table right now, in its current state. The next time someone asks you what Microsoft Teams is, don’t immediately respond with the “Teams is replacing Skype” line that has somehow managed to ingrain itself as an auto response for large portion of people – instead take a moment to listen to the question, and give that person something to think about.

Hopefully you’ve read this and thought “that’s not me” anyway – but you’d be surprised.