Teams Introduces a Team Owners Tag and Smart Replies

One Feature for Channel Conversations and One for Chat

It’s Friday, so time for some less serious topics than compliance. This week, some Microsoft 365 message center notifications for Teams caught my attention: a new automatic grouping (or tag) described in MC378419, and suggested replies (MC379024).

It’s worth noting that these notifications appeared after the deployment of the features started. In the past, Teams has been criticized for announcing features long before availability. Is this the start of a new announcement strategy?

Automatic Team Owners Group

Microsoft 365 roadmap item 94118 makes automatic groupings seem more exciting than it is. The title is a little misleading because the change introduces just one auto-generated grouping for use in channel conversations. The use of “grouping” is regretful as there are far too many types of groups inside Microsoft 365. I think that automatic tag is a better name that more accurately reflects the intended use of the feature alongside the tags manually created for use in teams.

The new automatic group (which is how it’s referred to within the Teams UI) is called Team Owners, and when it’s used in a message, it acts as an @ mention to the team owners. Being able to address team owners is a good facility, but it’s not a huge technical advance. The rosters for a team include a list of owners derived from the Azure AD group owners. Figure 1 shows how to use the automatic group to address a message in a channel conversation.

Using the Teams owners tag
Figure 1: Using the Teams owners tag

Like the other tags used in Teams channel conversations, the ability to address team owners is only available in regular channels. Private and shared channels don’t have team owners!

According to MC378419, the roll-out of automatic grouping started in early May and Microsoft expects to be finished in late June. When they’re done, maybe they could consider the name again and let us know what other kinds of automatic grouping they envisage (people with brown hair, folks who chat too much…).

Suggested or Smart Replies

Moving from channel conversations to chats, MC379024 describes the advent of suggested or smart replies in the Teams desktop client to match the capability already available in the Teams mobile client since late 2020. Deployment is complete for standard Microsoft 365 tenants, and the feature will roll out in GCC, GCC-High, and DoD from now through late July.

Microsoft ships the feature enabled, so if you don’t want people to become smarter in their responses, you must amend messaging policies through the Teams admin center (Figure 2) or with PowerShell.

Updating the suggested replies setting for a messaging policy in the Teams admin center
Figure 2: Updating the suggested replies setting for a messaging policy in the Teams admin center

PowerShell is the best option when you need to update several policies. To update a policy to block suggested replies, run the Set-CsTeamsMessagingPolicy cmdlet. For example:

Set-CsTeamsMessagingPolicy -Identity "Restricted - No Chat" -AllowSmartReply $False

The Teams desktop and browser clients include a setting (Figure 3) to allow users to decide if they want to use suggested replies.

Teams client setting to control suggested replies in chat
Figure 3: Teams client setting to control suggested replies in chat

According to Microsoft 365 roadmap 92674, the feature used “assistive AI to create short responses based on the context of the previous messages.” Users get up to three responses to choose from. I found that this is true for 1:1 chats with other users from the same tenant, but no suggested replies ever turned up for group chats, chats with guest users, or federated chat. Perhaps some bits need to land in the tenants I tested with, but it seems like suggested replies have quite selective coverage for now.

Context is Important

The content of the previous message is an important factor in whether Teams generates suggested replies. If the message contains a question (like the example in Figure 4), suggested replies usually appear. They don’t appear unless the AI can parse the message and come up with responses. I wish there was a smart reply for people who begin a chat with Hi or Hello, but such a response isn’t available, possibly because the AI is trained to be polite.

Figure 4: Suggested replies in a Teams chat

Suggested replies make a lot of sense for mobile clients. I’m less sure of them for desktop clients, but much like I have become accustomed to Word inserting suggested phrases as I type, I’m sure that I’ll get used to suggested replies in chat. We live and learn.

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