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There are distinct differences between Microsoft Teams and Yammer. PHOTO: elizabeth lies

Microsoft Teams launched three months ago.

Ever since, many people have found it difficult to understand the difference between Teams and Yammer, and to establish where each platform fits in the Microsoft collaboration ecosystem.

Several thought-leaders have offered their advice on the matter.

Their articles tend to be platform-focused; conceptualizing the distinction between Yammer and Teams in terms of functionalities. What I would like to offer is a distinction focused on people and their needs.

People work in different modes. Some tasks and responsibilities rest on the shoulders of individuals, some on teams and some on groups.

These differences make up a great deal of the different requirements for collaborations software and they are the reason why there is no “one size fits all” tool.

Teams for Teams, Yammer for Larger Groups

Teams are generally smaller than groups and team members more interdependent in terms of shared goals, deadlines and collective work products, e.g.. that presentation for this one client.

Team members constantly engage in fast-paced, real-time communications and collaboration. To be most effective, they need a tool that allows them to (1) quickly go back and forth in their conversations and (2) quickly access shared files and collaboration tools such as SharePoint or OneNote.

Groups share some characteristics with teams but their levels of interdependence and task coordination are generally lower.

Organizations and large departments are groups; their members share high-level goals and the end products are the result of a collective work effort. However, group members tend to have very few interactions in their everyday tasks.

The presentation for this one client? Jenny from purchasing and Steve from operations are most likely not going to be part of the presentation team. Unless that client is massively important to the business, Jenny and Steve are indifferent as to how this presentation is going.

However, that does not mean that the interaction of these group members does not matter. In fact, one of the most recent trends in organizational development revolves precisely around leveraging the power of such conversations. Enterprise social networks, including Yammer, are a manifestation of this.

The Power of Large Groups

Employees are motivated to break out of their silos and discover their organization. This is not a mere corporate feel-good exercise but an organizational effort that delivers tangible outcomes.

Any large organization is a huge pool of knowledge and information that outspan the comprehension of individuals or teams. Enterprise social networks, however, allow these individuals to tap into this wealth of knowledge and information.

They provide large groups with a single network that connects all of their members and helps these members engage with each other in discovery feeds, groups and topics.

Connect Large Groups of Similar Employees

British Gas use Yammer effectively to harness the power of large groups. Their #Yamwins campaign surfaced hundreds of instances of how their 10,000+ engineers, who are dispersed across the whole country, help each other out via Yammer. One engineer, for instance, took a picture of something wrong with a boiler, uploaded it to the Yammer network and immediately other engineers gave him advice on how to fix it. This saved time, money and hassle.

Connect Large Groups of Dissimilar Employees

“Chance encounters and interactions” of diverse employees improve performance and boost innovation. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions” where a heterogeneous mix of people talk about their work challenges and exchange ideas. This is why firms like Facebook and Google are putting their people in campuses designed to maximize chance encounters of people working on very different projects. One function of Yammer is to facilitate this same serendipity — but online.

Engage and Align Employees

Yammer gives your employees the opportunity to get to know each other and make large organizations feel smaller. This is a great opportunity for building employees’ self-identification with the organization. By actively shaping the network, leaders and the IC/engagement team can further develop employees’ awareness of and alignment with organizational values, practices and goals.

It is on these fronts (and many more) where Yammer provides value by getting large and diverse groups of people to help and engage with each other.

Smaller work teams with high levels of collaboration and fast-paced communications, on the other hand, are better off with real-time collaboration in Microsoft Teams.

This distinction — based on people and their work modes — hopefully resolves some of the confusion around Teams and Yammer and shows that Yammer has a valuable place in the Microsoft collaboration ecosystem.