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Microsoft recently started surfacing Yammer within Teams under a Communities app. This welcome step towards integration overcomes the dilemma of Yammer being yet another place to go. However, the two tools still have different emphases. Understanding these can help networks set off down the right path.

When to use Yammer vs. Teams is a long-running discussion. For a time Microsoft advocated its “Inner vs. Outer Loop” model which was simple, but took an individual-centered viewpoint, which seems a little odd for a network-oriented toolset. This post presents a more nuanced and more community-centric thinking tool.

Teams vs. Yammer: Which Do You Use?

On a superficial level, Teams and Yammer look like they do the same thing: you post a message to a group and others reply. You can react with likes and emojis and choose to get notifications on either tool. Crudely put, the headline difference is this:

Yammer is about people, Teams is about documents

In most cases, the artifact that Yammer is built around is the conversation between individuals. That is Yammer’s final output. For Teams though, the conversation isn’t an end in itself. You’re meant to be collaborating to produce something specific and typically that final output is encapsulated in documents (which isn’t to say Teams can’t be applied elsewhere, only that documents are deep in its DNA).

However, the big difference is that Yammer is open by default. You don’t have to be a member of a Yammer community to visit it and learn from it (or even to join in if it’s set up that way). Teams are closed by definition — you have to define membership up-front and you won’t know the Team exists unless you are part of it (or it is an org-wide Team).

The second big difference revolves around serendipity. In Yammer you can choose to follow people (this is what makes it an enterprise social network (ESN) and not a collaboration tool). Topic hashtags can be used too, to bundle conversations together across communities. It means you can stumble onto useful information by seeing what your network is involved in. Yammer’s home feed is therefore an algorithm showing network activity, not conversations you’ve actively opted into.

Related Article: Don't Know What Microsoft Collaboration Tool to Use? You're Not Alone

The Four P’s of Community

To understand when you might need these different qualities for Teams or Yammer, you need to understand what problem you want to solve. You can think of any kind of people network or community as varying along four dimensions:

  1. People – The relative importance of individuals compared to the group.
  2. Purpose – How oriented the group is towards a single outcome.
  3. Processes – How much members are connected by a common workflow.
  4. Place – The importance of a digital ‘center’ for the group.

four P's of community
Network types such as Communities of Practice (CoPs), teams, departments, even companies are pattern types that emphasize different dimensions of this P model, which in turn map to different strengths of Yammer vs. Teams.

Communities of Practice

people
Communities of practice revolve around a common interest in a topic, but they also major on the People dimension. What can really make them thrive are often the personalities of a community. These are the people who are most active, like a core membership, but they also endow the community with an identity.

Generally Yammer is the better tool for the job because you want to attract people to the CoP (playing on that serendipity quality), and you also want the insights it generates to be accessible beyond the community. Yammer’s Q&A feature also plays particularly well to this use case.

Related Article: What We Can Learn From Nearly 9,000 Yammer Communities

Projects

purpose
As you might expect, Projects are the natural fit with Microsoft Teams when the common denominator is the Purpose dimension. Participants aren’t there for each other, they are there to collaborate on an output.

The closer ties with document storage in Teams also makes sense, because the definition of the team membership also defines access controls. In this regard, Place is also important: the Team is the home of the project material. Project members may come and go, but the project assets persist (contrast that with a CoP, where the loss of a few core community members can lead to it drying up).

Related Article: Power Up Microsoft Teams With Third Party Add-Ons

Departments / Divisions

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Departments in an organization are trickier, and even more so when you scale up to a larger division or function level. The Process dimension comes more to the fore. Although multiple objectives may be pursued, there will be a common workflow and often interdependencies to coordinate.

Consider a blended approach here: Teams for specific projects or functional teams that want to keep things private, but Yammer as a way for a larger division to work out loud. This second element is important for coordination and for bridging silos, where action by one part of a division may well have a downstream effect on another, but all too often doesn’t come to light until it is too late.

Hashtags can be a powerful way to get alerts to activities you want to know about, and are a cross-channel dimension wholly missing on Teams. Narrating what is going on in Yammer is also much more agile than monthly manager coordination meetings or the like.

Related Article: New Together Mode Shows Microsoft Teams Is in It to Win It

Company-Wide Comms

place
Finally we come to internal communications. Now, more than ever, as we miss a sense of common Place in the physical world, employees look for a digital equivalent.

It’s a role that Microsoft has been steadily growing for Yammer as a communications amplifier. But it’s not just about broadcasting news (SharePoint does that best) but also about conversation at scale. Unlike Teams, you can embed a Yammer conversation in SharePoint to get this balance too.

The inherent openness of Yammer makes it a great way for leaders to have more transparent dialog (a prospect which can also terrify them). It’s also a way for leaders to take the pulse of the organization in a way that they may have done with town halls and roadshows in the past, or (rather stodgily) by waiting for annual survey results to come in.

Related Article: Unraveling the Yammer and Teams Tangle: Make Both Work for You

No Hard Rules

Of course, there will always be exceptions. Just as you can eat soup with a dessert spoon: it may not be optimized for the task, but the simplicity of one tool has advantages too.

In particular, if you are a smaller organization, you may find that using Microsoft Teams in all instances is a better fit. Just bear in mind that there’s a limit of five org-wide Teams across an entire tenant, so plan for channels rather than Teams where the ‘People’ dimension matters most.