Harness the Power of Teams | Information Technology | University of Pittsburgh
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Harness the Power of Teams

Microsoft is retiring Skype for Business, with Teams becoming the default chat, calling, and meeting app for Office 365. But the power of Microsoft Teams is that it is far more than a communications app—it is a shared workspace that facilitates organization and collaboration. In honor of the Panther’s 3–1 start, here’s a game plan for your getting your team to harness the full potential of Teams.

Draft a Team

The keystone of Teams is that it provides a single destination for conversations, files, apps, meetings, and more in order to facilitate seamless collaboration. Team members can be both inside or outside the department, onsite or remote.

If you are a manager or director, consider creating a team where your group can share information and manage your workload. (For example, I am part of the Pitt IT Communications & Marketing Team.) Major initiatives and projects are also ideal candidates for a team. For example, Pitt IT has teams for the Skype to Teams Transition and Flex @ Pitt. These teams keep us organized and on the same page.

Use Channels for Special Teams Work 

I’m a writer—I don’t need to be in purely technical discussions any more than tech folks need an alert each time I update an email draft. That’s what channels are for. They enable a subset of team members to work on activities that may not be relevant to everyone, so people don’t have to wade through irrelevant notifications and details.

Standard channels can be accessed by all team members, but only channel members get notifications about its activities. That way, other team members can “check in” on the status of activities that impact them, but that aren’t part of their daily work.

Private channels restrict access to conversations and related files and notes to only the subset of the team that is a member. This is important for work that is confidential or not ready for public discussion. This can include everything from discussions about academic performance issues of specific students and salaries, to legal issues or organizational changes.   

Create the Playbook Together

Have you ever sent a document draft to a group of people? You have to combine everyone’s feedback, resolve inconsistent suggestions, and reach out to answer questions. Then, you repeat the whole process with every subsequent version. Ugh—it’s like snapping the ball without having called a play!

Skip the email back-and-forth! Teams lets you securely store, access, share, and collaborate on files in real time at work, at home, or on the go. Just upload the file and let everyone comment with instant, automatic sync and version history tracking. People can see and respond to others’ changes and comments. Because Teams is part of Office 365, you can open and work together on Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.

Call Plays in the Huddle

Teams can do ad hoc IMs, meetings, and calls. But the real power of the app is collecting all activity within a team into a central location that everyone can see, access, and share. Of course, there will be one-off activities, but get in the habit of working in teams to make sure you don’t leave anyone out.

  • Start team conversations that everyone can see and participate in. Go to the team or channel, and either start a new conversation or reply to an ongoing chat. If you need to get a specific person’s attention, just @mention them.
  • Share files in the team, rather than distributing them by email. Go into a channel’s Files tab, and upload it there. Or start a team conversation and attach the file to a message.
  • Include the team in the meeting invitation. Schedule meetings by selecting the team/channel and clicking Meet > Schedule a meeting from the upper right corner. All team members will get an invite, although you can put specific people’s names into the Required and Optional fields.

Announce Your Game Day Status

Last week, I got a call in the middle of Yom Kippur services. Oops—my fault for not setting my status. Your status automatically changes to ‘away’ (yellow) if you aren’t active on your computer or to ‘busy’ (red) if you have a meeting scheduled. But you can also change your status manually.

  • If a meeting ends early, set yourself back to ‘available’—just don’t forget to reset your status before your next meeting so you switch back to ‘busy’.
  • Designate yourself as ‘busy’ to set aside time to focus on a particular task undisturbed.
  • Change your status to ‘away’ when you head to lunch.

You can even designate a status message to tell teammates something specific. For example, “I will be off today and will not have access to messages or email.” or “I am working on the Chancellor presentation, and am only available for emergency needs.”

Check people’s status before you reach out to them. You’ll have more success connecting with someone who is listed as available—or select “Notify when available” for any individual within Chat. Especially when we can’t just look down the bench to see who’s available, your status indicator is a great way to announce your availability to others.

OK – Get your head in the game, and win one for the Team. Check out the Teams Learning Resources page for help getting the most out of your players.