Sunday, March 8, 2020

'Teams' Everywhere

Rachel Burnham writes: At the moment I am seeing and hearing Teams everywhere.  Not ‘teams’ but ‘Teams’, that is Microsoft Teams to be precise.  I am seeing presentations about it, talking about it with friends & colleagues, reading about it and even receiving emails about it (there is an irony here, as Teams is often talked about reducing the need for emails). It is in my work and soon to be in my volunteering. Microsoft Teams seem to be everywhere I look – I think I am having one of those times when having become aware of a topic or product, you suddenly see it everywhere.

If you haven’t yet come across Microsoft Teams, it is  a communication and collaboration tool designed by Microsoft that works alongside a whole array of their other products, particularly Office 365.  There is a paid for enterprise version and also a free version that anyone can download – there are some differences in capabilities between the two.  I’ve heard it described as hub for your work, both with people, within and without your organisation and the software tools that you regularly use.   Or the glue that holds it all together.

It isn’t the only game in town.  There are of course other alternatives available from other providers (I am feeling a little like a BBC presenter at this point) and they each have many common features and their own strengths and weaknesses – I am most familiar with the alternative offered by Slack.  I have no interest in promoting Microsoft Teams over any of these other platforms and tools, it is just that this is the one that has grabbed my attention at this point.  I am not making  a case for this particular product, over any other, but I do want to make the case for using what we have well.  
If your organisation has chosen to adopt Microsoft Teams as it’s chosen platform, then it seems to me that it behoves us in L&D to really get our heads around how the organisation is using it and how we all can make best use of it, including L&D.   We need to be playing our part in seeing how this tool can be used to enable effective performance. That means using it in ways that do not stimulate unhelpful habits (eg like not being able to do ‘deep work’ for constant interruptions through poor use of chat features) nor seeing it as a silver bullet, that can of itself solve major challenges (eg silo working) without doing the other work needed to support this. However, I do think it has a huge potential, if used well, for supporting and enabling behaviours that lead to effective performance, including learning.

My thinking around this was stimulated by this year’s Learning Technologies’ event, where I went along to a presentation which was titled ‘Microsoft Teams as a Learning Platform’.  I was hoping for lots of sharing of ideas and experiences of using Teams to enable learning in the flow of work.   Lots of people turned up for the presentation.  But I was very disappointed by the content, which was very much about using Teams as an LMS and about access to training.  But it made me ponder how else we could be using Teams.  It made me focus on the question ‘If we are working within Teams, why not learn within Teams?’

Anyway, I Sketchnoted the session and as is my habit, I shared my Sketchnote both on Twitter and later on LinkedIn – I received a huge response from people, so many comments, questions and lots of sharing of experience.    Many were sharing that their organisation is adopting Microsoft Teams and they are trying to get their heads around it, some were puzzled about how it can be used to aid learning, others excited by the possibilities but wanting help and support, others were already making use of it to aid collaboration and support learning and shared some of the ways they are doing that.

Two comments in particular stood out for me.  Jo Wainwright shared on LinkedIn ‘I use it because it is where people already are and it already connects to everything else.’   When you are wanting to encourage social and collaborating learning, it is always helpful to consider where people already are – it means you don’t have to work hard to get them there or to overcome barriers to access.   Secondly, Mike Bedford shared on Linkedin ‘…I do not want it to be seen as another wasteful LMS missed opportunity’.   Nor do I!

One of the other people who responded to my Sketchnote was Helen Blunden, @ActivateLearn, who works for Adopt & Embrace, who along with her colleagues has written a book full of advice on using Teams.   I have been reading this with great interest and recommend it to you for providing some great examples of how Teams can be used and a framework for thinking about what is needed for each Team. 

Here are a few quick ideas about how we could be using Microsoft Teams.  Some are my ideas, some have come out of the conversations with colleagues since Learning Technologies, some from my reading and some were shared via social media in response to my Sketchnote – many thanks to all those who have contributed towards my thoughts on this. 

·       You could host a community of practice or a Working Out Loud Circle in a Team and use Microsoft Teams to host the conversations and resources shared.   This can provide a safe space for conversations and exploration of ideas and practices.
·       You could build reflection into every single Team by always incorporating a channel dedicated to ‘Lessons Learned’ or something similar.   Of course setting aside the space, won’t make the reflection happen, but it could provide a mechanism to enable it.
·       You could use the Teams Meeting feature – a video chat feature similar to Skype for Business – to host online coaching or webinars/virtual classrooms.  These can also be recorded, so you could record webinars or walk-throughs sharing your desktop. The features for webinars are not perhaps as fully developed as in other platforms, but can be combined with other tools.
·       You could share resources with colleagues through Teams eg a line manager or a peer recommending an article or video to colleagues.
·       You could curate useful resources as an individual or as a team using either OneNote or a wiki, both of which can be easily linked to a Team.
·       You could create a curated learning programme involving online discussion, reflection and sharing hosted either within a Team or using a wiki.
·       You could help people to find who within your organisation has particular expertise using ‘Who’, a bot that can be utilised.  You could then ask for help from that individual using Chat.
·       You could make relevant performance support tools and resources easily to hand within the relevant Team via a Tab.
·       You could make use of Forms to develop questionnaires and other tools within Teams.  Or use Teams with existing other survey tools eg SurveyMonkey.

I am sure this list is only scratching the surface of the possibilities and of course, it is making these ideas work that is the challenging part.  Encouraging the behaviours and habits of individuals and teams to give these tools and approaches a go.  

Microsoft Teams is just a tool.   We know that it isn’t the tool that is important.  What is important is how we use it to solve the problems that matter to the people we work with and our organisations.

If you are interested in joining me in working together to explore how Microsoft Teams can be used effectively to aid learning and performance, do get in touch.

Rachel Burnham


I help individuals and organisations to work and learn more effectively, particularly though using the tools of Sketchnoting and the curation of resources.  I make use of Sketchnoting to introduce people to using visuals to aid thinking, working and learning.  I help people to manage for themselves the information they need to stay up-to-date in their professional work.



  1. Dear Rachel,
    I need to quickly get to grips with using Teams meeting as a virtual classroom. I've just got used to Zoom but my client insists on using Teams as this is what they have invested in already. Would you be interested in giving me an induction session into the functionality of Teams meeting and how to get the best out of it for a virtual classroom? I'd be happy to pay. I find I get lost in the Microsoft guidance as none of it is specifically addressing my questions. Plus I'm an active learner and need to get my 'hands on'. Thanks. Margaret.

  2. PS you can contact me on thanks.