Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teams Users

Making Effective and Productive Use of Teams

According to Wikipedia, Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold over 30 million copies worldwide since its first publication in 1989. Good as that book is, it doesn’t cover how to work effectively with Teams, so here’s my best attempt at closing that gap.

Pin Important Chats

It’s likely that you’ll end up with lots of personal chats, but only some of those chats are important. Pin the chats you consider important to make sure that you can find them quickly (Figure 1). You can pin group and federated chats with Skype consumer users. You don’t have any excuse for not having your better half on the top of the pinned chat list!

Teams pinned chats appear at the top of the chat list
Figure 1: Teams pinned chats appear at the top of the chat list

Like any selection, keep the number you choose to a manageable amount. Teams won’t let you pin more than 15 chats to the list, and when you’ve chosen your most important chats, drag and drop them into whatever order you like to reflect the relative importance of each chat.

Pin Important Channels Too

A team is divided into up to 200 channels. Once you belong to more than a few teams, you could have hundreds of channels to manage. Select the channels where your most important discussions happen and pin them. You can drag and drop the channels in the pinned list to arrange them in whatever order you like (Figure 2).

Pinned channels appear at the top of the teams list
Figure 2: Pinned channels appear at the top of the teams list

And while you’re arranging pinned channels in order of importance, consider doing the same for the teams in your teams list so that the most important teams are on top.

Master Notifications and the Activity Feed

People can handle a certain number of notifications – tweets, email, chats, and so on. Once our personal threshold is exceeded, focus is impacted, and important items might be missed. By default, Teams likes to keep people informed and sends notifications for lots of different events like replies to conversations, channel mentions, and people reacting to messages. Just like people complain about a cluttered Inbox, a busy Teams activity feed can spiral out of control if you don’t clamp down on notifications.

The Teams activity feed lets the user know that they've some work to do
Figure 3: The Teams activity feed lets the user know that they’ve some work to do

Teams has general notification settings that you access through the Settings section of a client. These apply for all teams and channels that are in your teams list. For each category of events (like team mentions), you can choose to see:

  • Banner and email: Desktop notification and email.
  • Banner: Desktop notification and activity feed.
  • Only show in feed: Notifications show in the activity feed.
  • Off: No notifications.

The first thing to do is to decide what default notification settings suit your style of working. For instance, some people don’t care about reactions and turn this category off.

Next, hide any team you don’t need to hear about. You’ll still be able to access the teams when needed, but once they’re hidden you won’t see notifications for their events. Now look at the set of channels shown for each team in your team list and hide the ones where less interesting discussions occur. Teams won’t show notifications for hidden channels unless someone @mentions you.

Remember that you can override general notification settings for specific channels and conversations. If somewhere gets very chatty and generates lots of notifications, mute them until things calm down. Or set your status to DND and enjoy some peace from all notifications (except urgent messages and those from your priority contacts).

Learn Teams Commands

The Teams client user interface has changed over time. One thing that hasn’t changed is the set of commands you can type into the search and command box. Go to the box and type / to reveal the set of commands (Figure 4). For example, /call is a quick way to call someone. You can input /call followed by a name or just /call and Teams will let you browse the set of known users. The same is true for the /chat command. Another example is when you’re busy, type /dnd to set your presence to “do not disturb.”  Graphic user interfaces are great, but sometimes a command is the fastest way to get things done.

Listing available Teams commands
Figure 4: Listing available Teams commands

Always Give a Subject to a New Topic

Within a channel, messages are organized into base topics and responses. Every new topic should have a subject to tell people what you want to discuss. The Teams user interface makes it easy to create new topics without subjects, so you should drill yourself to always open the full compose box and enter a subject.

Apart from letting everyone know what you expect to discuss, subjects are bolded to stand out in a list of messages. A well-composed and relevant subject is a great way to draw attention to your topic and keep the debate focused. And if you really want to make a point with a topic, turn it into an announcement (Figure 5). But don’t make every topic into an announcement. Keep this for your really important news.

Creating an announcement post in a Teams channel
Figure 5: Creating an announcement post in a Teams channel

One thing you shouldn’t do is overuse the cross-channel post feature. This posts the same information into multiple channels, which is kind of spam for Teams. Used correctly to distribute information to many groups at the same time, it’s a good thing to do. Just don’t make it your normal working practice.

Focus Mentions

Like any messaging platform, Teams can get chaotic. It’s good to be precise when highlighting messages that you’d like other people to read and respond to. Teams includes two ways to bring messages to the attention of users. A personal @mention is when someone is addressed by enteri8ng @ followed by their name. It’s a highly personal signal that they need to know or do something. People often use @mentions to filter their activity feed and triage messages. Because of this, it’s good manners not to overuse @mentions. It’s also good to avoid overuse of @team and @channel mentions so that you don’t create a flood of notifications. Acting as if everything is so important that people need to know about it right now is a recipe for unhappiness.

Tags bring precision to messages by addressing subsets of people in a team. Tags can be set up by the organization (default tags) or created within a tag. Once created, people can be assigned to tags. To use a tag, prefix it with @. For example, @Writers will address everyone in a team who’s been added to the Writers tag (Figure 6).

Members assigned to a tag in a team
Figure 6: Members assigned to a tag in a team

Make Great Video Calls

Video calls are a very different environment to face to face meetings. They can easily descend into a cacophony of disconnected voices all demanding attention if participants don’t realize how to leverage the shared space.

Some simple rules help. First, have an agenda to follow and some stated goals for the meeting to achieve. Second, appoint a chairperson to lead the discussion and make sure that everyone gets a chance to contribute. It’s a good idea to log questions in the meeting chat both as a record of issues that arise and need to be discussed and as a reminder afterwards. Third, record meetings when possible and share the meetings afterwards in Stream to people who couldn’t attend. Pay attention to the automatic transcript and edit the inevitable errors. Use video when possible and make sure that you have a good headset. Use appropriate background effects that won’t distract or offend anyone. And above all, learn how to use the mute button. No one needs to hear background noises.

Embrace Change

Given the rate of updates to Teams functionality it’s likely that some of the tips mentioned here will change over time. Keep an eye out on developments and assess them to understand if they can make you more effective. Some will and some won’t. That’s just the way of the world.

Do you have a good tip for working with Teams? If so, share it in a comment!


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17 Replies to “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teams Users”

    1. I’ve been a heavy user of both Slack and Teams. Love them both for moving us away from the inefficient use of email for work. While I love the interface and feel of Slack so much better, I do love Teams deep integration into O365. Only on Windows 10 though. Microsoft in my opinion is less innovative and more usually catching up, but when they do it’s not bad. What’s really the challenge is getting your peers to move from email to Slack or Teams. But we do live in a better world for having both. I’ve been wanting these platforms to be used since my Google Wave was turned off. 2009 Google put this idea out and it didn’t stick.

      https://youtu.be/v_UyVmITiYQ

  1. I recently went through an effort to retire teams that were made on a whim and remake them as channels. My users weren’t familiar with conventions from Slack so I added a tab at the top of each channel called “HOW2 USE CHANNEL”(doesn’t get … if I abbreviate this way). Hopefully these tabs won’t be needed forever but for now it appears to give people confidence they’re doing things correctly (and not appearing foolish in front of colleagues)

  2. Nice post. A lot of things, in fact everythings I did not know about Teams and I can’t wait to try out. I just hope our edu tenancy supports these!

  3. One tip the helps avoid unnecessary Team and Channel creation is renaming a group chat. You still get a files tab where you can store files for the group. You can search for the chat by name, pin it until it becomes irrelevant, and add members along the way.

      1. Teams Search absolutely needs to be improved. When they’re looking for files, people often use the SharePoint Search facility (or Delve).

    1. All software has good and bad points. Have you ever written anything that’s used by > 75 million people to be able to be in a position to criticize Teams?

  4. Love this! I like using stream in combo with teams too. It would be awesome if tags and notifications between the systems worked.

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