At a Microsoft conference last month, the presenters emphasized the same point: The average employee today participates in twice as many teams as a few years ago. This sounds right intuitively, as work tasks and communications seem to constantly increase. 

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Microsoft already has many products to support these teams – including Yammer, SharePoint, Skype-For-Business and Exchange email groups, but apparently that’s not enough.  They are introducing a new “Teams” application which looks very similar to Slack. Whether the Teams application will help us be more efficient or just add to the noise is another question (see the comments on my last blog, Slack’s Success & The Future of Enterprise Social Networks).

I asked the Microsoft managers, “How should we decide which application to use?” The honest response from one Microsoft presenter: “That’s the million dollar question.”  The choice, apparently, is being left up to individual users, or (as I recommend) to the organization to provide strong guidance to its employees, especially the managers, who will make the platform choice.  

In some cases, Microsoft technically forces a choice. For example, inside SharePoint, EITHER the Teams product or Exchange groups can be selected as an embedded part of the SharePoint team page.  Confused?  I haven’t even mentioned that “Groups” is an admin-only mechanism to control usage rights across all Microsoft applications.  

As for Yammer versus Teams… 

Inside Microsoft itself where Teams has launched, the CEO still uses Yammer as a prime vehicle to share information and gather feedback.  This points to the enduring, unique power of an enterprise social network (ESNs, such as Yammer), versus new age chat applications (such as Teams or Slack).  For “working out loud” – Yammer may no longer be the most compelling application in the Microsoft Suite.  Yammer, however, is still the best application in the Microsoft suite for forming and nurturing new, strategic communities, where the goal is to change directions, improve the culture, and introduce new thinking or develop ideas.  

An organization’s community could include all employees, divisions or non-structured “communities of practice”.  As the community coalesces around an organizational strategy or specific objective, it drives employee engagement—the Holy Grail for human resources managers. If you can create a true community in your organization, you will have made a major achievement, as so few organizations have engaged employees.  But enabling online access for a group of people doesn’t make a community.  As one of the first modern community managers, John Coate, observed, “it can only really be true if the people who are actively involved in it, declare for themselves that it is true: we are a community.”