The Flat Hierarchy (Teams Problems)

Welcome to a new mini-series of articles on my blog, intended to take a look at ‘new issues’ that arise from using and adopting Microsoft Teams, which we didn’t necessarily have to deal with before. I shall call these ‘Teams problems’.

This first article is based on the most common grumbles I hear, often expressed in a few different ways which I believe all stem from a single cause.

Usually, if I’m in the office, I’ll notice somebody walking up to me, slowing down as they get closer with a hesitant look on their face, and start by saying “I’ve got a problem….. with Teams”.

  • Teams is too noisy, how do I turn off notifications?
  • I’m in lots of Teams, how to I keep up to date?
  • I asked for something and was told “It’s in Teams”, so how do I find it?

So, let’s look at these one by one and then re-cap them all to try to get to the bottom of this…

Teams is too noisy, how do I turn off all these pointless notifications?

If there’s a lot going on at work, and you’re involved in many different projects or cross-functional groups, then Teams will do a fantastic job of updating you, each, and, every, single, time, somebody, @mentions you, or the channel, or the Team, or when anybody replies to one of your posts, or likes something you said, or sends a meme or GIF or sticker. And who doesn’t want all that attention seeking triviality to occupy your desktop during the working day.

Sometimes it’s more subtle, and you just like a clean and tidy interface, so each time something new happens, makes that Team or Channel go bold, or puts a notification pill against Chat or on the start bar, you’re straight in there to return order to the world once again (maybe not even read the message). Yet another task in your way to getting down to that zen like experience of INBOX-ZERO. Then try to remember what you were just working on before the interruption.

The problem isn’t Teams. It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to. Notifying you of activity ‘within your team’. To a certain extent you can tune it to your preferences. But how is Teams supposed to know the difference between an update to a purchase order from a customer, or the 5th cat GIF replying to the previous 4 cat GIFs before it in a thread about which cat GIF should be used on a new campaign. Arguably both equally important depending on if you work in accounts and you need to cancel the law suit, or if you work in marketing and it’s your job to get a design signed off in time for an event.

I’m in lots of Teams, how do I know if important things are happening?

Congratulations, you’re using Teams more than anybody else. Some may even suggest the number of Teams you’ve joined is a way to sort and assign rank the most productive people in the company. Great job!

If you’re new to my blog and style of writing, it’s probably worth saying I use sarcasm quite a lot. That previous paragraph was just another example of that.

This and the previous problem are inexorably linked – the more Teams you’re in, the more activity you’ll be notified about.

But, if Microsoft Teams is telling you about things you have no interest in. Then you’re actually saying the people around you are working on things you have no interest in, so why would you pull up a chair and sit at their table, and join in all their meetings.

If you have little or no investment in what’s happening within a Team, why are you a member?

So if you’re struggling to keep up with everything that’s happening in all the Teams you’re now a member of, then you’re either overworked and underpaid and should probably say something to your boss, or, have you considered that, just perhaps, you’re using Teams wrong?

Using Teams Wrong?

“How dare you”… I know right, but, it’s a hard thing to admit, this new shiny work-place productivity tool that’s the golden child of the industry, perhaps isn’t being used ‘right’. But what defines the ‘right way to use Teams’. I’ve said before there is no single right way to use Teams, to a large extent if the process you’ve created works for your and your team, then that’s fine by me.

But you’ve just told me it’s not working for you – so, how did you get in this state? More often than I’d care to brag about, the answer is as simple as…

“I asked for an update or a report, and I was told “It’s in Teams”.. and suddenly, poof! a new Team popped up and now I’ve got another Team I need to check all the time”

– Every manager and overly-interested co-worker, everywhere.

If you wouldn’t invite your manager or co-worker to the daily project conference calls, or CC them on every email, so why would you add them to the Team?


Flat Hierarchy

When it’s so easy to share what you’re working on, why not? Somebody asks you for something, so you give them access to the Team. But you’re also giving them access to everything else in the Team…

  • All the channels
  • All the folders
  • All the files
  • All the tabs, apps, and all the Planners
  • and… All the conversations

Suddenly they are part of the Team, it picks away at their sanity each time the Team is @mentioned and they get a notification on something trivial to them, and on top of all that, it feels rude to leave. So they either get annoyed at ‘Teams’, or just ignore it and think it’s crap.


Respect the hierarchy.

A ‘Team’ is the membership boundary, everybody in the Team is in the Team. At the moment there isn’t the ability to be in part of a Team, or to have a filter on the type of information you’re exposed to.

What do you want to get out of the ‘Team’, when adding somebody else, are they another invested individual working towards the common goal, or are a manager wanting an update, or an outsider wanting to be nosey, or are they just here to review a single document and that’s it.

Maybe it’s easier for you to just add them, but perhaps think of a better way to achieve what you need…

  • If your manager wants an update on how things are going. Write a report, just like you used to do.
  • If somebody wonders what your Team is up to. Direct them to the relevant Yammer Group where you share news and updates that might actually be of interest to others.
  • If you need a subject matter expert to review part of a document, share a link to that document via chat or email (yes, email, you read that correctly, it still very much has it’s place in Modern Teamwork).

Feel free to comment if this has happened to you, or if you’ve heard any of these issues where you work.

Thanks for reading,

One Comment

  1. So much stock photography, it hurts my eyes !

    Nice article, good to see you blogging again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *