How to stop Microsoft Teams sprawl is one of the most common concerns from both end users and IT administrators. Questions such as:
- We have too many Teams?
- When do we create a new Team?
- Why do we have duplicate Teams names?
- When should we delete Teams?
- Which Teams are inactive?
- Why do we have ownerless Teams?
Do too many Teams really equate to Teams sprawl? No, not necessarily; active Teams are not sprawl. What you need to identify is your inactive teams that are just cluttering up the Teams menu and taking up storage space.
Inactive teams can be a result of limited or no training, limited user adoption, no user accountability and/ or no governance rules in place.
My blog addresses these questions and looks at both technical and business solutions for implementing Microsoft Teams governance to stop Teams sprawl.
Why does Team sprawl happen?
Teams sprawl occurs when you have not implemented Microsoft Teams governance. This results in large numbers of inactive and obsolete Teams.
You are suffering from Teams sprawl if:
- No controls are in place to manage your Teams lifecycle.
- New Teams are created when an existing Team could be used.
- Teams are created but never used.
- Teams are not being deleted when they are no longer required.
Implementing Microsoft Teams governance can help you stop Teams sprawl by:
- Empowering and educating users, especially Team owners.
- Implementing easy to use Microsoft Teams governance rules and controls. Remember that if you make it too complex, users will seek alternative solutions.
- Actively managing your Teams lifecycle by applying appropriate controls. Start simple and look to continuously improve.
1. This is not just Microsoft Teams governance but Microsoft 365 Groups governance
Microsoft Teams are managed by Microsoft 365 Groups so, most of the governance controls apply to all Microsoft 365 Groups and not just Teams.
Therefore your lifecycle management to stop Teams sprawl could impact Yammer and Outlook based Microsoft 365 Groups.
For example if you stop users creating Teams you are stopping users creating any Microsoft 365 Group.
This can have a major impact if the organization is already using Yammer. One specific client I was working with soon reversed their decision to stop users creating Teams after a backlash from the well established Yammer community.
2. Create your Microsoft Teams governance rule book so you how and when to use Teams
Technical controls alone will not solve your Teams sprawl issue. You must define your Microsoft Teams governance rule book first.
And importantly decide how you will educate your end users and Teams owners on:
- When to create a new Team or use an existing Team, when to add new channels to a Team and when to just send a one or adhoc group chat message?
- When do I create a Team and when do I create a Yammer Community?
- Where do I store my data in the long term? Should it be Teams or somewhere else?
- When should I archive or delete my Team because it is no longer active?
- As a Team Owner what am I accountable for?
Recommendation: Create your ‘rule book’ to define your governance controls and then implement your business and technical controls in a prioritized plan focusing on the ‘must haves’ first.
3. Beware duplicate names can happen
Without Microsoft Teams governance controls duplicate Team names will happen. There are two reasons for this:
You can only search for public Teams, and private Teams that you are a member of. You cannot search for private teams that you are not a member of. This means that you are unable to see if a similar Team already exists.
There is NO validation on the Team display name name when you create a Team. So you can easily create a Team with a duplicate display name.
See screenshot below.
The risk is that duplicate names increases the risk of accidental data access.
Think of the scenario where there is an organisation with similar departments in different countries e.g. a retail department in the UK and retail department in the US. The UK retail manager creates a private Team for all the retail staff in the UK and calls it ‘Retail’ . The manager of the US retail department also wants to create a Team their US retail department and call it ‘Retail’ . As the manager of the US retail team is not a member of the UK retail department they cannot see or search for the Team they are not a member of so they do not know a ‘Retail’ Team already exists. So they can create a second Team called ‘Retail’.
Duplication only happens with the display name. The Team SharePoint site URL and Group Outlook account name must be unique so the second team called Retail will have numbers added after the name to make it unique as in https://<company>.sharepoint.com/retail427 and retail427@<company>.com.
Recommendation: Apply Microsoft Teams governance controls during Team creation to apply naming conventions and also to check for duplicate names before the Team is created.
4. Implement Microsoft Teams governance to control your Team creation process
There must be a balance between the needs of users versus the IT security concerns and ‘lock it all down’ is not the answer. If it is too hard to collaborate in Teams then users will go else where and use unapproved shadow IT such as WhatsApp and Drop Box resulting in the loss of any governance controls.
It is also important to remember that If you limit who can create Teams then you also limit who can creation all other Microsoft 365 groups such as Yammer communities.
The standard Team creation process does not provide any approval processes or capture of additional metadata that could be useful for Microsoft Teams governance. For example a long term departmental team or a project that is last only 3 months.
Recommendation: Apply Microsoft Teams governance controls during Team creation to include approval processes and to capture of any metadata. These controls could be a simple workflow managed by Forms and Power Automate, implementing the Request a Team App available from Git hub or using a third party solution.
5. Manage ownerless Teams
The Team owner(s) are accountable for the Team and managing its membership. However the standard Teams creation process only requires a single owner.
So what happens when a Team owner leaves the organisation? If they were the only owner of the Team then the Team becomes ownerless. This is a particular issue for private Team as only the owner can add new members to the team.
Recommendation: Apply Microsoft Teams governance controls during Team creation to enforce multiple owners.
6. Implement Microsoft Teams governance to review and expire your Teams
All Teams have a period of activity whilst people are collaborating on the shared tasks, such as a project. However, once the tasks or project ends then the communications and collaboration activity in the Team stops, resulting in an inactive Team. If the Team owner is unclear on managing the Team’s end of life then this will result on the Team remaining, just in case information is needed at a later date.
This leads to Team sprawl which causes confusion for end users as they have too many Teams to look through and also to the admins that need to manage the Teams and the SharePoint storage it consumes.
Implementing an Azure AD Expiration policy for Microsoft 365 Groups can help control sprawl by reviewing all Teams at a regular frequency e.g. every 6 months and either keeping or expiring (deleted) a Teams. The risk with this approach is is either all Teams are kept just in case some information is needed later or important information is lost when a Team is expired and deleted. In addition this option does not provide options to hide or archive Teams.
Recommendation: Collect metadata about the purpose of the Team and make sure you have accountable owners. Create regular review processes for your different types of Teams to make sure they are still needed. In addition implement rules on the long term storage of final versions of data. Team owners should be educated to move important, final versions of data from their Team to the final storage location to enable the Team to be closed.
7. Active monitor your Teams governance
Before you implement a Team lifecycle management process is important to review the impact to any proposed rules on your existing Teams. For example:
- How many Teams have duplicate names?
- Do I want to apply a Teams naming standard names to my existing Teams?
- Are any of my Teams ownerless?
- Which Teams are inactive?
Recommendation: Assess the impact first and seek feedback from the business before implementing.
These are my five key takeaways for implementing Microsoft Teams governance to stop Team sprawl:
- Use an agile approach to implementing your project to manage Team sprawl.
- Define rules on managing all stages of the Teams lifecycle (creation, operations and the end of life) plus information governance rules on what data should be stored where.
- Decide how you will implement the controls and the level of automation needed. this could be functionality provided by Microsoft, Power Automate workflows, custom controls, reports and/ or 3rd party solution
- Implement the technical controls alongside user education.
- Finally it is never to late to control your Teams governance.