Sorting Out Teams, Conversations, Topics, and Replies

Penny Drops for Teams VP

An August 21 tweeted response by Rish Tandon, Microsoft CVP for Teams development (Figure 1), gave some hope that Microsoft might do something to fix one of the most irritating and longstanding problems in the Teams client.

The frustration caused by Teams replies
Figure 1: The frustration caused by Teams replies

Ever since Teams was introduced in preview in November 2016, observers have noted how easy it is it for users to fall into the trap of creating a new topic instead of posting a reply to an existing topic. Even experienced Teams users, including many who should know better, rush to respond to topics and fail to reply to the original thread. The result is an incoherent mass of confusion in channel conversations.

Structured Teams Threads

A conversation in a Teams channel is a thread of messages linked together composed of the topic and its replies. Keeping the thread together is important not only in terms of how the messages appear in the client but also in eDiscovery situations where investigators want to see how a conversation of interest develops. Some Microsoft tools, like advanced eDiscovery, include the ability to reassemble and display message threads for review.

Figure 2 shows an example of a well-structured conversation in a Teams channel. The topic note has a subject (another important best practice) and the replies are arranged in time order under the topic. It’s easy for readers to understand what the topic is about and how the conversation develops.

A well-organized Teams channel conversation
Figure 2: A well-organized Teams channel conversation

Chaos in Conversations

Figure 3 illustrates the problem. The topic note is clear and obvious, but instead of adding replies to the topic, our respondents have created new topics (threads). The Teams client doesn’t know that these messages are associated with the original topic, so it displays the messages as new topics (without subjects). Even worse, someone has created a new topic in the midst of the discussion and given it a subject, helping the original thread to become even more disjointed and difficult to follow.

When things go wrong with replies in a Teams channel conversation
Figure 3; When things go wrong with replies in a Teams channel conversation

Teams and Email Can Both be Messy

I often hear people praising Teams on the basis that it’s easier to work with than email. A badly-organized and managed inbox is not an item of beauty and can be difficult to work with. On the other hand, Teams has its own challenges. Using new topics instead of replies is one issue. Spreading conversations across too many channels is another. These problems force users to revert to search to find information too often, and although Teams search has improved recently, all too often it takes effort to find a specific message.

More GUI Tweaking Needed

Microsoft has tweaked the Teams UI to try to coax users to create new topics and replies when appropriate. The GUI should reduce the chance of people breaking up message threads without meaning to. For example, if Teams insisted that all new topics have a subject, it might be a way to highlight to users that they’re not replying to a topic. It would also be nice if Teams allowed a team owner to fix the damage caused by a poorly placed reply by dragging and dropping the reply back into position within a thread.

According to an August 17 Teams User Voice response, Microsoft is testing a solution internally to make it easier for users to distinguish between creating a new topic and posting a reply. Now that Rish Tandon has acknowledged the problem, maybe the solution will appear soon.


Worrying about desktop client UIs doesn’t seem like the kind of thing the authors of the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook should concern themselves with. However, we’ve been bitten by the problem described here and it would be nice if Microsoft could sort the issue out ASAP.

2 Replies to “Sorting Out Teams, Conversations, Topics, and Replies”

  1. Maybe this is just a result of me being a product of IRC like rooms/chats in the past, but i have to force myself to use threads 🙂 Because posting a simple message is so much easier. You just type and press Enter. No need to hit some graphical reply button with a mouse before that, no need to open a separate thread window and then close it to save space for messages (Slack). And often threads are overused. Somebody asks something and a simple reply or two is enough, but they start a thread for a simple ‘Thank you’ and you have to expand such threads to see what it is about. In Teams it seems more visually separated, so maybe makes more sense to hit Reply. Maybe they will have to come up with some AI automatically putting messages into threads 🙂

  2. By hitting Reply, the entire post is moved to be at the chronological point when the ‘Reply’ is made. For our purposes, it would be better if the original entry maintained its original position in time. If people reply two days later on a Wednesday, it can be confusing for someone who has been asked to ‘reply’ to the post from Monday. You can create a new post and use ‘link’ in the more recent entries to relate the two together, and an intelligent ‘Search’ finds all, as the original details are in the new post.

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