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Time Reveals Software Flaws
Software designers make many good decisions when they create new applications, but the test of time and experience of how software works in practice often reveal unanticipated problems. Teams system (or service) messages are one example. These are the messages automatically posted to the General channel of a team when members join or leave the membership, along with other important team news like the creation or renaming of a channel.
Every team has a General channel. You can’t remove or rename the General channel because effectively it is the core of the team. Although you can absolutely use the General channel like any other channel, it’s best to move conversations into other channels and keep General for system messages and important team announcements.
Figure 1 shows some examples of system messages posted to a team’s General channel. The first tells that an administrator or team owner (no difference is displayed) added five members. This is an example of where multiple users are added at one time through the Add member dialog. The next is the addition of an individual member followed by a series of other member additions by running the PowerShell Add-TeamUser cmdlet. You can also use the Add-UnifiedGroupLinks or Add-AzureADGroupMember cmdlets to update team membership.
System messages might for member additions and removals usually take a little time before they are posted. I’ve seen this delay vary from a few minutes to a couple of hours.
Why System Messages Exist
Teams posts system messages for a very good reason. They inform team members when someone new is a member, with the intention being that people will welcome the new person and involve them in conversations. There’s lots of goodness in this idea, especially in the early days of a deployment where you’re trying to foster increased engagement.
News of Joiners
But the law of unintended consequences means that undesirable membership announcements can swamp the goodness. I’ve already pointed out how new employees can be prematurely announced in org-wide teams. This can be embarrassing, but’s a problem easily dealt with if you realize what’s happening.
Another problem is created when organizations bring hundreds or thousands of new users into Teams over a short period. Microsoft said that 12 million Teams users were added in one week in March. Each of those users was probably added to several teams, meaning that tens of millions of system messages announcing that someone joined a team were posted since. That’s a lot of probably not-very-interesting news for Teams users to digest.
Publicizing Employee Departures
System messages can spread the word when someone leaves the company. If the offboarding process results in the removal of the person’s Azure Active Directory account (perhaps after placing a hold on the account to make their mailbox inactive), the account loses its membership of all distribution lists, security groups, Microsoft 365 Groups, and Teams. And because the account is no longer a member, Teams posts a system message to that effect in every team the person belonged to.
There’s nothing wrong about letting everyone know that someone is no longer a member of a team, except when that person has lost their job because of corporate restructuring. When someone is made redundant, they might share their news with close colleagues, but generally it’s not something they want to broadcast to the entire organization.
Disclosing that someone has left could be embarrassing for that person. Disclosing that hundreds of people have left can be disastrous for company morale. Everyone might know that the company is letting people go, but being forced to confront the reality of what’s happening by seeing a long list of system messages in the General channel of a large team isn’t a great way to foster teamwork.
The Lack of Control
It’s unlikely that the Teams product group considered how system messages would become a burden in circumstances like those we face today. However, even in normal times, it’s reasonable to ask for some administrative controls over system messages. It would be to have:
- An org-wide setting to disable system messages for all teams in the tenant. It would be even better if granular control was available. For example, allow messages to announce new members but suppress those when people leave.
- A team-specific setting to allow team owners to suppress or allow system messages.
Microsoft is currently rushing some new Teams features into production to help Office 365 tenants cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be nice if they could introduce administrative controls over system messages too. If you agree, express your view on this Teams User Voice request.
Update: June 8: Microsoft has announced that they will remove system messages from the General channel.
Restrict the General Channel
In the meantime, you can take two simple actions to avoid people using the General channel. First, create some channels to use for discussions and give those channels meaningful names. Second, encourage people to chat in the non-General channels by allowing only owners to post messages to the General channel (Figure 2).
Restricting posting to the General channel stops system messages cluttering up conversations. In addition, if users are kept from posting messages to General, they’ll be less likely to open the channel to see the system messages posted there.
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