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PHOTO: Gia Oris

When Microsoft first announced Teams in November 2016, it became clear the new addition to Office 365 was more than just another app. Rather, it is meant as a "hub for teamwork in Office 365," which aggregates multiple collaboration services — some new, some renewed versions of existing offerings — into a single user experience. Teams includes the following main features:

  • Individual Chat and Team Conversations — Text message with a colleague, or with groups of colleagues, using Teams channels.
  • File Sharing — Share content with colleagues using SharePoint as the backend document repository.
  • Calendar — Set up meetings using the Office 365 calendar, which is the same calendar in Outlook.
  • Meetings — Previously available in Skype for Business, Teams provides expanded voice, video, videoconferencing and screen sharing capabilities.

Clearly Teams is a powerful collaboration platform. But getting people to use Teams, like any new tool, has been a challenge, even when some of the features are already familiar. 

So how is Microsoft driving adoption? First, by bundling Teams directly into Office 365, a cloud productivity platform many enterprise workers are already using. Specifically, Microsoft Teams is included in even the most basic Office 365 enterprise package (E1), putting the tool into the hands of potentially every Office 365 user.

But giving the product away is only half the story. Microsoft is also pulling the plug on Skype for Business, thereby forcing many workers to migrate to Teams to continue using Skype’s conferencing and chat capabilities.

How is this strategy working?

Pretty well it would seem. Teams is the fastest growing Microsoft product … ever. Teams now boasts over 13 million daily average users (DAUs), passing Slack’s 10 million, and Slack has been around since 2013. According to Microsoft, Teams is also being used by over 500,000 organizations, including 91% of the Fortune 100. By any objective measure, Teams is seeing meteoric adoption. 

But despite these numbers, Teams has a long way to go to achieve mainstream market acceptance. Why’s that?

Related Article: Slack's Innovation and Momentum Continue Apace

Teams Adoption vs. Market Potential

Let’s start with a look at Teams' market potential. The most recent number of Office 365 users was pegged at over 180 million monthly active users as of April 2019.  (There is a much bigger market for Teams since many organizations are still in the process of moving to the Office 365 cloud. Teams is not currently an option for these people.)

While it’s hard to reconcile the number of daily active Teams users with the monthly active Office 365 users, it's safe to say the number of active Teams users is still less than 10% of Office 365 users. So there is still a long way to go before Teams can be considered a mainstream product. This is borne out by the fact that according to Microsoft, only 150 organizations have 10,000 or more active users. In other words, while Teams is used in 500,000 organizations, on average, relatively few people are using Teams in each of those organizations. This is no anomaly. In fact, this pattern correlates nicely to the way new technologies are typically adopted.

Related Article: Slack or Microsoft Teams? Well, That Depends ...

Diffusion of Innovation Patterns

Back in 1962, Professor Everett Rogers introduced a theory to explain how innovations like new technologies spread. Originally defined for the spread of communications technologies, Rogers’ "diffusion of innovations" model has become widely accepted as a way to explain a wide variety of innovation adoption, including cancer prevention and deterrence of drunk driving. 

According to Rogers, innovations (like new apps such as Teams) are adopted at varying stages of development by different kinds of people, as shown in the figure below.

diffusion of ideas

Source: Wikipedia

The theory posits that people can be divided into three sets of groups that predict when they will begin to use a new product or service:

  • Innovators and early adopters are willing to take risks, try new things, and don’t worry about failing. They make up about 15% of the population.
  • Early/late majority users are most of us, who are average adopters. This group comprises about 70% of the population.
  • Laggards are the roughly 15% of people who will be the last to adopt a product or service. These are the folks still using fax machines and carrying Blackberries. Say no more.

Related Article: Surviving the Team Collaboration Platform Invasion

How Can You Drive Teams Adoption in Your Organization?

Viewing the number of Teams users through the diffusion of innovation lens places Teams usage in the early adopter phase. At this stage, adopters are keen to figure out new ways to use a product to help them with work while overlooking the product’s shortcomings. However, to spread to the larger enterprise audience, organizations will need to address these issues and provide a clearer sense of how the product helps a worker get work done.

Instead of waiting for everyone else to catch up, you can take action to drive Teams adoption in your organization:

  1. Define and publicize business use cases for Teams. Most organizations have rolled out Teams as is, expecting users to figure out how to use it. That’s fine for early adopters, but mainstream users need to understand how the tool will help them do their work better. They need defined business use cases. A simple business use case is managing small scale, departmental projects like a marketing event or a product release — in essence, replacing internal email with Teams conversations. This ubiquitous case is one that will make it easier for everyone on the team to follow project developments while reducing email volume.  The temporary nature of the project and the ability to include small numbers of outside contractors make it a natural fit for Teams.
  2. Control Channel Sprawl. Even small-scale roll outs reveal the problem of channel sprawl. With Teams you quickly end up with so many channels that people can’t follow conversations. People miss important updates, can’t find important information or documents and wind up getting frustrated. To avoid this, share clear guidelines and processes for people to use existing channels rather than create new ones for every additional mini-project or discussion. Use Teams templates for simplifying the creation of new channels. New template capabilities are also on the way, so follow Teams product updates to help you control channel sprawl.
  3. Integrate with email. Teams does not have a practical way to enable communications exchange with outside parties on a large scale. For example, if you are working with customers, suppliers or partners, you will need to continue using email to communicate with them. Trying to divide a conversation into internal vs. external is harder than you think. For example, customer inquiries or negotiations often lead to internal discussions. The continued use of email with Teams leads to disconnected, parallel conversations. So it's important to figure out how to connect the two communications modalities to create a single conversation.

Related Article: Microsoft Is Sending Collaboration Loopy

Teams Is Only Getting Started

Teams is only in its early stages, and in many ways, the product is still immature. As such, there are many new developments on the way. You can weigh in about what new features you would like to see on the Microsoft Teams UserVoice site, and look for the new announcements coming in a few weeks at the Microsoft Ignite Conference.