Microsoft Teams Sprawl: What It Is, Why It Happens, and How to Fix It

Microsoft Teams Sprawl: What It Is, Why It Happens, and How to Fix It

For many companies across the globe, the last 18 months brought a sudden shift to remote operations and new ways of enabling employees to collaborate with their peers.

Virtual collaboration and video conferencing became further embedded into business norms, as businesses leveraged tools like Microsoft Teams to enable communication and engagement among remote employees.

Some companies may have been more prepared for this shift than others. If companies didn’t have tools like Teams at their disposal, they accelerated plans to onboard them to help maintain business continuity. Consequently, Teams saw dramatic results in adoption, jumping to 145 million daily active users in April 2021 and then to 250 million monthly active users in July.

However, the need to deploy company-wide remote operations often superseded the need to implement a Teams governance plan, and unfortunately, resulted in a growing challenge among businesses and enterprises: Microsoft Teams sprawl. Without proper IT planning and oversight, companies may find themselves backtracking to resolve an overwhelming problem of data sprawl.

What is Teams sprawl?

Essentially, Teams sprawl is the uncontrolled overflow of unused, outdated, or duplicated and irrelevant data within Teams. It's often the result of a lack of administrative policies enforcing data management or a lack of user training and understanding of how to use Teams.

Without proper governance policies in place, users may create single-use teams or channels that are rarely used. Or they may attach data to these channels, stashing files in multiple locations, leading to confusion and clutter. In a company with thousands of users, business leaders must consider how they triage channels and teams. Otherwise, they could be scrolling through countless channels – many of them useless -- within their Teams environment.

The problems sprawl can cause

When left unchecked, Teams sprawl may mean big problems for businesses, especially enterprises with thousands of employees. Additionally, during mergers and acquisitions, the situation worsens when the parties want to consolidate data but haven’t effectively managed it.

Suppose multiple versions of the same file exist in Teams. That could mean end users are accessing outdated information or struggling to find the information they need. If employees are unclear where to find what they need, miscommunication can happen internally and with external partners or customers. Users may then start saving all their documents on their local workstations, contradicting the collaborative aspect of Teams and making it harder to find the most current file.

Teams sprawl can also lead to significant data security risks. Mismanagement of membership within teams and channels may result in the wrong people having access to sensitive information, increasing the risk of data leaks. Consider the scenario in which a user invites an external guest to an open channel. That guest might have access to internal information. Or they could duplicate content, add it to a private channel, edit posts, or delete data. It’s critical to monitor user activity and guest accounts that have access to your Teams environment. 

Tips to curb sprawl and mitigate risks

Companies can take a few critical steps to cut down on sprawl, reducing the risk of serious problems:

  • First, identify stakeholders to oversee Teams management and enact its governance policies. As part of this process, stakeholders should analyze the organization’s use of Teams, identify guidelines, then create and execute a training plan. For instance, they might build a “tips and tricks” channel that gets routinely updated with advice on new features to help end users effectively use the platform.
  • Next, on the business side, administrators will want to make good use of Microsoft's native tools to limit the number of people who can create, delete, and archive Microsoft 365 groups. These tools can help govern naming policies and manage group descriptions, membership, even accessibility by geographic region. Administrators can also use these tools to create dynamic groups that automatically update group memberships based on a person's identity, helping control access and improve network security.
  • Finally, stakeholders may want to establish team or channel moderators who get notifications and provide additional guidance around content creation or proposed deletion. People with specialized knowledge are often ideal moderators because of a deep understanding of departmental needs.

With more businesses and end-users adopting Teams every day, sprawl can seem inevitable, but it doesn't have to be. The trick is to be proactive in managing Teams and the data within it so it doesn't get out of control. With thoughtful planning and a focus on implementing governance measures, IT leaders can help businesses keep Teams sprawl in check and their digital environments humming efficiently.

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