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Will Teams take over SharePoint?

Will Teams take over SharePoint?

By Alex Fields,
Senior Solutions Architect, SUCCESS Computer Consulting

Recently, I’ve had customers asking me questions like: “Can I migrate my SharePoint sites into Teams?” And, more to the point: “I just implemented SharePoint last year, but now I’m wondering if we even need that with having Teams.

It’s funny, because I always thought about these two platforms as distinctly different products. I mean, I know Teams can’t exist without SharePoint; indeed, a lot of the 365 apps that we know and love are built on the backbone of SharePoint Online. In fact, you might be using SharePoint without even knowing it.

In general, though, I think of them in this way:

  • Teams = chats and meetings, ad-hoc file sharing, etc.
  • SharePoint = intranet functions, as well as team-based or company-wide file sharing

Initially, I did not let these overlap in my mind. When I started using Teams in my own company, for example, we primarily used it to replace Skype for Business (chat functionality), and then as a side effect we had these new containers called “Teams” for collaboration, meetings, and file-sharing.

Oddly enough, for me that was sort of the afterthought, even though it is the main thrust of the product, really—a chat-based collaboration workspace for teams of people.

Until a customer (or two, or four) approached me with this “migration” question, for some reason it never really clicked for me that we could essentially replace many functions of, say, a SharePoint Team site with a Team. For example:

  • SharePoint has a document library embedded in every Team site, while Teams also presents a document library through its interface; the “files” tab on each channel links back to the document library
  • You can have “Announcements” in a SharePoint Team Site, or just make them right in the General channel of any Team (use @mentions to get everyone’s attention—you can even @mention the whole Team using the team name)
  • Adding a calendar is sort of hokey right now, but we’ve heard that it’s also coming soon to Teams—so that function could also get eaten, presumably
  • Sometimes your SharePoint Team Site has a bunch of useful links to inside or outside resources and other reference material—just like you can link to other pages, apps, etc. in tabs along the top of the Teams menu: websites, spreadsheets, etc.

With the company-wide team available now, you can see how there may be ways to displace even a traditional “landing page” for your intranet. So in the future, why should we use SharePoint at all (except as a background-supporting infrastructure for Teams)?

Still, I think that SharePoint might be a better vehicle than Teams for certain types of information-sharing and use cases, and for good reason.

A Team can be sort of—how do I put this—messy. Depending on the Team, it can be semi- to very informal, and I think things tend to get thrown up a little more haphazardly. Maybe you can develop some best practices or good documentation out of the conversations and back-and-forth that you are having with your teammates (or whatever it is you and your team “produce”)—but that stuff bubbles up to the surface over time. Before you get to that level, a lot of what’s being said and shared is, well…junk. And that’s okay—preferable, even. It’s a space where ideas can be argued and discussed, and things aren’t polished yet. In essence, it’s a high-entropy workspace and things are not necessarily “settled” at any given point in time. And they don’t have to be. When you are with your team you need to have permission to just be yourself out loud, and, sometimes, to make mistakes in front of them.

This is where external sharing gets to be a little tricky. If your intention is to invite an external user (either from the wider organization, or a partner or customer) into a Team, that changes the dynamic. You might not want those outsiders to “see behind the curtain,” so to speak. For example, the idiosyncrasies and inside jokes that you and your teammates share just aren’t going to be understood outside of that context, and in worst-case scenarios they could even be misconstrued or offensive to others. So: the “external-inclusive” Team would have to be built with a different etiquette and awareness for the Team members, at the risk of completely upending the dynamic.

Maybe the solution is to have separate Teams—external-facing ones and internal (just be sure which type you are in before you start flappin’ your trap). But another possibility is that for some types of information-sharing, you might lean on SharePoint. The Team might be where you do your work “behind the curtain.” SharePoint might be a better place to publish “finished” work to outsiders that is a bit more polished.

So what about that intranet site? Or extranet site? You can push “finished products” like an employee handbook, or other reference material that has regular (but not frequent) updates. Maybe blog articles continue to function here. At least as of the time of this writing, I think “company calendar” and the like still has a better home on SharePoint than inside a “Company-wide” Team, and the list goes on as you start thinking about it more. I don’t see harm in keeping the helpful references, links and resources published in SharePoint (e.g. links to your CRM or EMS portals, etc.), as I think you can present these things in a nicer, more polished, and more consumable format there.

At the end of the day, though, this is just my opinion. I can see wanting to simplify everything by paring it down to one single app, but I’m not sure that’s always the best answer. You might be trying to fit some square pegs into round holes, in some instances.*

Consider this: OneDrive is not always the best file sharing/collaboration tool, right? What if there was no Teams or SharePoint, and we just had OneDrive? It would be terrible. Sure, you could share files with folks, and invite people to collaborate with documents on your OneDrive using links, but this experience is highly inefficient at scale. Plus, people come and go from organizations: “But you know Dave was in charge of such and such data, and all the sharing links out there go back to his OneDrive account, and now he left the org, so what do we do?!

It makes no sense to try to use OneDrive for everything related to file sharing when there are other, more efficient built-in options, right? The distinctions maybe aren’t as clear when you get into Teams and SharePoint, but I think they can still be made. These products all represent different spheres of influence and collaboration—different scales, different audiences. As you move outward from your own personal sphere of collaboration (OneDrive) into a Team or Team Site, and eventually into the intranet and extranet, your audience is shifting, and your content is going to become more “edited” and “presentable” (and probably more immutable, too). It may even be a PDF by the time it reaches a partner or customer, for instance.

In short, consider these questions when you’re trying to decide where to plant certain types of content or information, or whenever you are trying to determine which tools from 365 you should use and when.

  1. How wide is my audience? Is it just me and some others (OneDrive), my department or one of my Teams (Teams), my whole company (SharePoint), beyond the borders of my company (SharePoint, other platform e.g. WordPress), etc.?
  2. Is my communication long-form like a blog (SharePoint) or short-form like an announcement  (Teams)?
  3. Is it formal (SharePoint) or informal (Teams)?
  4. Is this a collaboration/in-process sort of thing, or is it more published/immutable/infrequently changing information?
  5. Any others you might think of!

I hope this helps some of you out there who are trying to make sense of the ever-expanding universe of options in the Office 365 suite. Maybe next time we can thoroughly confuse you and talk about Kaizala (oh no, ANOTHER communication/collaboration app?!).

Infographic illustrating use-cases for publishing information using different Office 365 applications

*Quick tip: You might find that some Teams Sites really could just become Teams instead, since the purpose/audience/etc. is basically the same. In that case, know that it is also possible to link to existing SharePoint-based content or document libraries within Teams. For example, you can add a tab to any channel, and link to either a website or SharePoint document library location of choice, using a URL. You do not necessarily have to migrate Documents from Team Site A into Team A /Channel X /Files tab. Just link to the existing library—no need to re-create the wheel or do a complicated migration.