abstract art sculpture. white sculpture on white background of bow tie knotted together
PHOTO: Bruno Figueiredo

You'd only just got used to Yammer. Slowly but surely, you edged your way to something resembling adoption. People were actually starting to use it, connecting over work problems, no longer just over pictures of one-eyed cats.

Great! Well done! Digital workplace nirvana (well, small steps eh?). 

But then Microsoft Teams comes along and with it, confusion. There’s a chat channel there, kind of like Yammer, but kind of not. There are some bits of Skype, it has its own SharePoint library, there’s a wiki and then … pretty much anything else you want when you add it in a tab. And hang on … now you can even have a Yammer app within Teams.

Confused? 

Should you use both Yammer and Teams — perhaps working only in Teams? Should you just ditch Yammer completely and focus on Teams? Before you can answer this, you need to understand they are just tools. Like any tools, they will do what you ask them to do. It’s up to you, with your business goggles on (as opposed to your technology goggles), to know what you want. Why do you want digital collaboration? What’s the business outcome you expect from using whatever tools you have?

Teams or Yammer: Start With Your People Side

Understanding why you should use either Teams or Yammer can be hard to articulate when you put the tool first. Put the people first, however, and it becomes much clearer.  

There are different dynamics when you collaborate in person, and this is reflected in how Teams and Yammer should be used. If you understand the business and people context then your need for tools begins to emerge.

When you engage in focused project or task-specific activities, you tend to work in smaller, specific and known groups — otherwise known as teams. This is what Microsoft Teams is aimed at (shhhhh: there’s a clue somewhere in the name).

Very crudely, keep teams and projects using Teams to around 10 or less people. Know who is in and who is out. It’s a safe, very close environment and you (should) trust those who are there. It’s where you know where to find answers and it’s highly collaborative.

Research carried out by SWOOP Analytics (see image below) shows that on Teams, two-way engagement (that is, posts that are replied to) increases the smaller the team is. Applying this to the physical world, how would you feel speaking freely in a small meeting room versus in a town hall forum? It’s the same physically or virtually. For these highly collaborative conversations, aim to keep numbers between four and 12.

team size vs. two way communication abilities chart
PHOTO: Swoop Analytics

Yammer, on the other hand, is the whole of the workforce — the network. You don’t necessarily know who is there but there's probably an answer, or some help available. Or a cat. It’s where you bump into colleagues virtually who you don’t directly work with or where you want to engage with the business, like in a town hall forum.

And appreciating this potential size is so important. For most of us, it takes some guts to put your hand up and contribute in a room of dozens or hundreds. It’s the same on Yammer, especially if you don’t know who is listening. But there are ways to break this down:

  • Topic-specific campaigns.
  • Have someone primed to go first (it’s always easier if somebody else goes first, especially if their point is a little more contentious than yours).
  • More focused and relevant groups or communities — and with groups being renamed "communities" in Yammer, this underlies the community focus of Yammer.

Ultimately, you want to feel safe to say something spontaneous and genuine, such as highlighting problems or suggesting new ideas, rather than always only "liking" everything the CEO says. 

Related Article: So Now Microsoft Axes the Yammer Community Team

Teams or Yammer: Answer 'Why?'

Understanding how size can make a difference to the tools is a starting point, but that still doesn’t help you understand why you should use Teams or Yammer.

And this lays bare the bones of digital transformation: Why are you transforming? How do you want to be working next year, or the year after, or tomorrow? After all, if you don’t know why, digital transformation runs the risk of simply being an iteration project. "Hey team! Guess what? — instead of calling on Skype, we’re using Teams. It’s the future!" This doesn’t make people want to use the new tool(s), and indeed is not the point. The point is you are integrating video calling into the heart of your daily work. That Teams becomes the place of work, not a tool to support it.

Likewise, just because Yammer is there, and you can post to anyone, doesn’t mean you will or should.

Yammer loves a diverse mix of people with shared purposes. It loves business-wide campaigns. It loves hosting people from different locations and/or business units who need to speak with one-another. It loves support and help groups. Activities that have someone who drives them, who knows why other people need to get in touch.

Focus on business needs — what are your core values, goals, key capabilities, problems or opportunities? There are multiple tools, methods, processes and actions that can help you get there. Teams and Yammer may well be part of this mix, just understand what that is. If one of your business KPIs is one-time departures, then why not create a support or improvement group on just this?

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

Teams or Yammer: The Leadership Factor

If people are left to their own devices, they're quite capable of finding things to do. Whether or not it’s for a particular business purpose is questionable (see: pictures of unusual cats). Good digital leadership gets people working towards something, and in safety. It’s what drives engagement, and if you don’t get engagement then what’s the point of spending all this time and money on collaboration tools?

On Teams, leadership begins by getting people onto Teams to work as a team. Basing our content there, using the chat channels for discussions instead of email, holding meetings.

And like the analogue world, knowing how to run meetings is a key part of digital leadership on Teams. Moving status updates into the conversation channel as a thread frees up the in-person or virtual meeting time to focus on improving or creating things. It’s also about knowing when to shut up, step away and start listening to the other team members.

Team leaders need to also get into the right habits, @mentioning team members instead of emailing them. This not only bring them into Teams, it gets them in a discussion together.

On Yammer, the best type of leadership is more tacit. Simply being present, using it: sometimes posting, but ideally responding more. This shows that your leaders are listening and affirming what people are doing, that Yammer is a place of work.

Now's a good time to return to the underlying community focus in Yammer. A good community manager (or managers) can keep the conversations flowing in Yammer, demonstrating best practices by showing, not telling. Explicit leadership, telling people to use it, is the equivalent of suggesting your grandfather should get a top of the range smartphone knowing he'll only ever send messages and make calls. 

This form of tacit leadership also requires people have honest conversations, truly engage with the workforce rather than just broadcasting. It’s acknowledging you don’t always have the answers — that modern organizations are tending towards being complex adaptive systems where none of us can predict or apply repetitive practice. It’s asking questions or connecting with new people who may have the answers. And as on Teams, it’s about listening and responding. Letting people know that leaders want to hear from you.

Related Article: Online Communities and the Campfire Principle

Team Meeting vs. Town Hall: They Both Have Their Place

Microsoft Teams and Yammer are the workplace. They are virtual pieces of the office. Like any office building, they won’t do anything unless you fill them full of people and give them something to do. Consider Teams as the team meeting and Yammer as the corridor or town hall forum. That way can help you think "what are we meeting for?" and "hey, I’ve got a question for you."