At Microsoft’s annual Ignite conference in September, the most popular slide was the one that tried to make sense of Office 365. The slide was shown once again at the European SharePoint conference in mid-November. The consensus found it a helpful clarification and thought it made a lot of sense. I couldn’t help thinking the explanation was received with the kind of elation someone feels when a chronic illness is finally diagnosed.
Teams vs. Yammer (When Will This Debate End?)
Microsoft presented the slide as a guide to "Where to start a conversation."
“Teams is for your Inner Loop, people you work with regularly on key projects. Yammer is for your Outer Loop, people you connect with openly across your organization.” Email is the option for when you need an ad-hoc grouping, and SharePoint acts as the glue for your file and content.
Yammer and Teams Still Overlap
A tool where you can have quick exchanges with people that you are working with intensively makes sense. Microsoft call this "high velocity collaboration." Teams can do this.
When you want something that is more exploratory, you cast the net wider. You probably also revert to a longer messaging form because your audience will have less context and you need to frame your question more explicitly. Yammer can do this.
What’s confusing, though, is that Yammer can do the inner loop stuff too. That's how Microsoft has pitched Yammer for a long time: as a teamwork tool. There may be a sub-second difference in how quickly a response is posted, but rarely a material one. If you need to respond that quickly, use voice. And by the way, Yammer will gain voice and video calling shortly too, surely "inner loop" features.
Meanwhile Teams now scales up to 2500 people. At some point that stops being an inner loop conversation unless you are very extroverted. I recently heard someone ask, “If my company only has 700 people, won’t Teams do it all?” It would be nice if we didn’t have to choose right at the start who might be interested in a conversation. What if a conversation starts small and then we realize we need to pull in some experts who are not part of the team? Do we have to copy and paste it all into Yammer?
Your Loops, My Loops, Everyone's Loops
When you look at the diagram and think of “Me” in the middle, the loops seem reasonable. But in many working practices my inner loop is not the same as your inner loop. Large projects often have sub-teams that collaborate intensively, and then coordinate across each other. The project manager's inner loop will be different than the inner loop of someone in the design team. Project stakeholders will often be found somewhere between an inner and outer loop too.
To be fair, the "channels" concept within Teams can deal with some of this, but the hashtag approach in Slack is more versatile: it allows the design team to post something to both their loop and the project management loop.
Then we come to Outlook. The beauty of email is it can do ad-hoc "permissions" for a conversation. The downfall is that in every other respect I want the velocity of a Teams discussion. So we end up with a conversation on a topic that wholly belongs in Teams, but which happens in an entirely different format due to permissions. Because of this, I’m forever losing links and login details because I assume it is in Teams and then find it’s in Outlook.
Anyone remember Google Wave? For all its faults, it did at least try to tackle this messaging conundrum.
The Ideal Collaboration State Is a Continuum
We’ve ended up here in part because Microsoft is trying to retrospectively explain a set of tools that were never designed to fit together. By contrast, Workplace by Facebook doesn’t have this dilemma: your inner and outer loops are a continuum of group sizes. It means you don’t have to worry about where you start a conversation, you only need to dial the notifications up or down depending on your interest and manage the membership.
When Microsoft announced Teams, it stirred up a lot of debate about how it would sit alongside Yammer. It’s good, then, that Microsoft recognizes this and is trying to provide guidance. Too often in the past the company has distanced itself from this knotty issue by saying, “We’re giving you choice,” leaving others to write whole books on the topic. I do hope Microsoft follows this recognition with a plan that brings Teams and Yammer together.