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I spend a lot of time working with customers designing and implementing digital workplace solutions on the Office 365 platform and one of the topics that receives the most discussion and consideration is Teams vs SharePoint. With each new update to the platform, the line between the two continues to be blurred, and customers are left wondering am I using the right technology for the right use case. I thought I would share my opinion and guidance on which to use when. Also, note that when I am referring to SharePoint, I am almost always referring to using the communication sites and not team sites backed by Office 365 groups.

When to use Teams?

Teams has really gotten most of the press lately, especially in the virtual times we are living in and it is not without merit. Teams are what I would call the swiss army knife of collaboration. With support for online meetings and chat it replaces Skype in most scenarios and often this is the main reason companies begin using Teams. I think of this as mostly ad hoc collaboration where meetings and chats are set up and used as needed and participation and membership are more fluid. Today I chat with these 3 people and tomorrow it is a different group.

In addition to ad hoc collaboration, the ability to create teams and channels for more structured collaboration is an extremely common and powerful aspect of Teams. It is this feature set that has the most overlap with SharePoint and can lead to confusion. In fact, as many know each team and private channel is backed by a SharePoint site for content management. Given that Teams can support ten thousand users in a team and allows for organization-wide teams many customers may feel that Microsoft Teams is really all they need for their communication and collaboration needs. However, in my experience overuse of Teams to solve every use case can lead to some challenges around permissions, communication, and lead to users feeling overwhelmed.

So, when should you choose to use Teams?

  • When every person in the team is on “equal footing” it means you trust them to add/update/delete documents like everyone else in the team.
    – Teams is designed for collaboration with only the owner and member roles so if you want to communicate to users but not have them change things, SharePoint may be better suited.
  • When communication needs are informal, tend to be shorter and more often relate to getting work done.
    – Broad companywide communications, especially in larger organizations may result in lots of noise and while teams’ posts support rich text, SharePoint news has much better support to create engaging content
  • When communication needs two-way and tends to be between a smaller group.
    – The larger the membership becomes; the busier posts tend to be, and the more likely team members are to either miss or ignore the conversations going by.

When to use SharePoint?

With the success of Teams, some have been left to wonder if SharePoint is headed for the chopping block to be relegated to becoming the content service mechanism for things like Teams and Yammer. I honestly do not think that is the case and in fact, I think the success of Teams is helping SharePoint be used for the right things. Earlier I suggested that Teams was the swiss army knife of collaboration tools and not long ago this was said of SharePoint. However, it always lacked the social/chat necessary when working on something like a document and seeking review and discussion. Many used SharePoint (and many still do) as a glorified file repository and to me, this was never a great story for the platform other than improved versioning of network shares and better access. Today, I think this belongs in Teams for the most part.

Like Teams, SharePoint is constantly seeing improvements and additions in SharePoint Online that keep building on its uses as an intranet which is where it really shines. In an intranet, you want to have communication scenarios that are broad from a few to many where most users are consuming content and not changing it. That is where SharePoint communication sites are key over Teams because they support having visitors who cannot change the content. SharePoint also supports building out beautiful pages with many types of content like links, images, events, videos, news, and much, much more. Obviously, with Tabs, you can embed a SharePoint site, but I do not want to get into that right now.

So, when should I choose SharePoint?

  • When you want to communicate from a small group of creators to a larger group of consumers.
    – This can be traditional scenarios like the HR department with a portal for links on benefits etc. or a traditional intranet to even something like a corporate department that produces process and training materials for front-line workers in the field.
  • When you have a need for producing rich and diverse news and information.
    – For example, weekly newsletters with not only rich text but embedded videos, presentations, links, etc.
  • When you want to be prescriptive with what your users see.
    – Along traditional intranet lines for sure, but more broadly, with SharePoint support for site and hub navigation, you can design it such that new employees can easily find their way around with a fixed navigation, consistent landing pages, and prescribed content rollups for news, pages, documentation, etc.
  • When you want to target content based on user attributes like role, organization, or location.
    – Using audiences in SharePoint is a great way to make the intranet more personal and while Team boundaries can reduce the “noise” in Teams using audiences in SharePoint is even better because a single site can target content to any number of different users with audiences to make things even more personalized.

Closing Thoughts

I realize that even after reading this there are probably questions about what is right for you and your situation. That is why we are here as consultants to listen first and offer guidance based on previous experience to help you make the best decisions possible. The great thing is that while both Teams and SharePoint have their strengths and weaknesses you are never really locked into one or the other with Office 365. You will most likely end up with both and in many cases, a bit of hybridization where a team may show SharePoint content like news and pages, and SharePoint may roll up content that lives in Teams. In the end, we want to define and understand our reasons for using each but allow users to move between them with as little friction as possible.


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