Teams governance

Combatting the consequences of Microsoft Teams sprawl

Gain control of your Microsoft Teams sprawl with this helpful guide! Learn how to identify and combat the surprising consequences of unmanaged Teams usage.
James Done
Updated
August 18, 2023
5 min to read

As more and more people adopt Microsoft Teams as their primary collaboration tool, content sprawl can become a real concern. In this guide, we'll explore the causes and consequences of Teams content sprawl and provide practical tips to help you regain control of your Teams environment.

What is Teams sprawl?

If you’ve noticed a recent and dramatic increase in site creation, or if you’re discovering underutilised or abandoned sites in your organisation, you could have a problem with Teams sprawl. But should you be worried about it and how can you be sure that what you’re seeing is an undesirable amount of sprawl?

Teams sprawl is a common problem that many organisations face as they adopt Microsoft Teams. It occurs when Teams usage grows rapidly, and content becomes disorganised and difficult to manage. It can lead to duplicate content, which makes it difficult to find information, resulting in decreased productivity.

What are the symptoms of Teams sprawl?

If you’ve noticed any of the following symptoms, then Teams sprawl may potentially be a problem in your organisation:

  • Users constantly creating new sites and channels
  • Content being shared outside of Teams via email or Dropbox, etc.
  • Duplication of sites and content
  • Underutilised or abandoned sites
  • Users employing third-party tools

All of these examples are results of Teams sprawl and will eventually lead to user frustration and decreased productivity. As great as Microsoft Teams is and despite all the best intentions, Teams can quickly become a victim of its own success. If Teams grows too rapidly without proper user guidance and your users cannot find what they need to do their jobs, they will look elsewhere for solutions.

What causes content sprawl in Microsoft 365?

Content sprawl in Microsoft 365, including Teams, can be caused by a variety of factors. These include a lack of clear governance policies and inadequate training for users. Additionally, the ease of creating new workspaces at all levels and a lack of feature awareness can lead to a proliferation of poorly managed or organised content.

Organisations need to address these underlying causes to effectively combat content sprawl. Here is a list of the common causes of sprawl across Microsoft’s 365 products:

SharePoint

  • By default, anyone can create sites in SharePoint – Without an approval process, rampant site creation can become a problem.
  • Ungoverned and unstructured content creation – If there is no clear understanding of where to put content, it becomes impossible to find anything, leading to content duplication.
  • A lack of enforced data classification, labelling and tagging of content – If users don’t have proper training and guidance on how to label or tag their content or where it belongs, they tend to put it anywhere.

Take a look at 5 strategies to stop SharePoint content sprawl.

Teams

  • By default, anyone can create a team - When creating a team, you create a team site, folders containing the default channels, an Outlook group, a shared calendar, a PowerBI workspace and a Planner plan. Left unchecked, this can spiral out of control.
  • By default, anyone can install any Microsoft-approved third-party app – This can lead to a lot of unnecessary installations and can sow confusion.
  • Teams can contain a lot of structured and unstructured content – Teams can end up packed with documents, images, and videos, as well as recorded meetings, chats, and threaded discussions.

OneDrive

  • OneDrive is packed with lots of unstructured content – Users tend to store all sorts of information on OneDrive spreading their content across their PCs and possibly syncing files with SharePoint.

The main takeaway from all of this is that the governance activities in most organisations are mostly inconsistent, leading to sprawl in all of these areas.

What are the problems caused by content sprawl?

Content sprawl can lead to a variety of problems for organisations, all of which contribute to poor productivity and frustration on the part of the users. Here are a few of the biggest culprits:

  • Difficulty finding the correct team or team site – When site creation is left unchecked, it becomes likely that groups of users will create their own sites to collaborate on projects or manage files and this can lead to duplicate sites. If, for example, there are three different HR document management sites in an organisation, which one do you search for that important document in first? This can lead to decreased productivity as team members spend valuable time searching for content instead of working on tasks.
  • Duplicate content is easily created – If multiple sites deal with the same type of content, the duplication of files is inevitable. When you have multiple files with the same name with largely the same content in different locations it becomes impossible to figure out which document is the definitive version of the truth. When that happens, users tend to decide for themselves or create their own documents adding to the problem. The problem becomes exponentially worse as content volume increases.
  • It becomes easier to accidentally share sensitive content – When there are multiple sites and site owners all storing their own version of content it becomes increasingly difficult for them to know who they should be sharing information with. Without defined repositories run by a select few responsible content owners, sensitive documents will likely fall into the wrong hands.
  • Increased costs – As content sprawl increases, so does the need for additional storage and resources to manage the excess content.

How do you limit Teams content sprawl?

Microsoft Teams has become an essential tool for many organisations, but with so many users creating Teams and channels, content sprawl can quickly become a problem. Here are six steps that should help you limit content sprawl:

  1. Establish a clear hierarchy of teams and channels - Users need to know where to store and find information and it is important that they understand the logic behind the navigation. Knowing where the information they need should be goes a long way towards easing confusion and limiting their need to create new teams.
  2. Establish guidelines for managing individual teams - Each team should be managed by one or two trusted owners to ensure that they are managed properly. You might also think about limiting channel creation in these teams to the owners. This can help prevent duplicate or unnecessary channels from being created and ensure that content is organised in a logical and easy-to-navigate way.
  3. Establish guidelines for naming and labelling teams and channels – To make it easy for users to find and upload content, you should create a naming policy that makes sense for your organisation and label your teams to make them more searchable.
  4. Regularly review and archive unused or outdated teams and channels – Getting rid of old and abandoned teams can also help keep content manageable and prevent clutter. The best way to do this is to implement an expiration policy. Another useful tool is the Usage reports page in the Microsoft Teams admin centre, which provides insights into how users are interacting with the platform. This page can help you identify which teams and channels are being used the most and which users are the most active. You can also use this tool to track the adoption of new features.
  5. Provide training and resources for users – Education is key to helping your users understand best practices for managing content in Teams and ensuring that everyone is on the same page when it comes to content organisation. This includes teaching them how to properly create new teams and channels, how to manage and share files, and how to communicate effectively within the platform. Regular training and resources can help ensure that your users are using teams in a way that aligns with your organisation's goals and policies.
  6. Communicate with your users – By involving key stakeholders in the business in team creation and management you can ensure that your users have what they need and that Teams is being used in a way that benefits your organisation.

Conclusion

As Teams becomes ever more popular and useful, there will always be a reason for your users to feel the need to add a new team, channel, or app. Some degree of sprawl is inevitable, but these measures should do a lot to keep it in check.

If you take one thing away from this guide though, it should be this.

In the endless task of limiting content sprawl, communication is your first and best line of defence.

Communicate with your users so that you are aware of their needs and create the materials they need to facilitate timely and effective training. Microsoft has intentionally made it easy for users to create teams and channels in Teams because it empowers them and encourages collaboration. If you constrain your users’ ability to work together and get work done, they will find other means to achieve their goals.

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