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Office 365 Groups – Should end users be able to create them?

27 Mar 2018 by Laura Zawacki

A group of Microsoft MVPs recently took the stage to debate this topic in the first episode of Regarding 365’s Debate series, hosted by Darrell as a Service. The premise of this series is that topics will be argued from the ‘IT Pro’ and ‘End User’ viewpoints. Regardless of what side you think you support, it’s usually beneficial to gain a little outside perspective to enhance your understanding and come up with a creative solution that will work for both parties.  
Here’s a summary of the debate. However, you can catch the recorded video and view the panelists here: RE365 Debate Ep1: End users should be able to create their own Office 365 Groups 
 
Users should be able to create their own Office 365 groups – End User Perspective 
Availability  
Users want to get their work done. If they have the ability to create their own groups, they can do so knowing that the tool has been approved by IT. End Users select tools that make them more efficient in completing their daily tasks and working on longer-term projects. If IT doesn’t provide the right tools, or makes them too difficult to use, they won’t be adopted, and users will find other non-IT-sanctioned tools (shadow IT). End Users should be able to create Office 365 groups if it will help them collaborate and be more efficient/productive in their everyday work.  
Zero, or minimal, delays 
When a User has an idea, often they want to keep momentum rolling and want to start getting input together immediately. IT often takes days or weeks to get to requests so if a User can do it themselves, why bother IT when the User can create their own Office 365 group today? 
When Users have an idea and need to collaborate, they don’t want to go through strict internal processes to get their project started. In most cases they want to hit the ground running using the resources at their disposal. If it takes too long to get appropriate permissions, and groups set up, Users lose momentum and interest and innovation becomes onerous. We know how busy IT teams are; if Users have to wait too long to get their collaboration platform spun up, they may get tied up with other projects by the time they get a response from IT and then the moment has passed. Alternatively, if Users can’t get what they need from IT, they may turn to other means of communication, such as email, which as we know, isn’t very suitable for collaboration.    
Hands-on learning 
How can a User truly learn/adopt a tool if half of the functionality is turned off? To fully learn and adopt a product, like Microsoft Teams, what better way than hands-on learning and full access to explore all functionality using some trial and error? Users can be smarter than IT gives them credit for, who’s to say Users won’t come across best practices through learning it themselves? If they’re able to immerse themselves in a tool fully, it could result in Power Users that can help evangelize the tool within the organization, or their department.  
Give Users an explanation 
Don’t just tell Users ‘no’ and expect them to forget about their real business problem. Most people in life don’t like hearing the word ‘no’, but it’s especially frustrating when you’re told no with absolutely no explanation. If your organization is truly promoting innovation and collaboration, then why is group creation (which enables that) immediately banned? If it’s not the best option, recommend another solution, or teach Users why a certain approval process is in place, or why Users should follow certain naming conventions.    
 
End users should not be able to create their own Office 365 groups – IT Pro Perspective 
IT Pros like to have control over their systems, because they know them best. It’s hard to argue with that – they’re responsible for the administration of the solution, as well as securing the data, and streamlining management. Here are some of the problems that IT Pros face with end users creating their own groups.  
IT wants to avoid a cluttered system with duplicates, which results in a poor end user experience. 
When an End User creates a Microsoft Team for example, they often don’t realize that there are other objects created alongside it. When you create a Team, you also create an Office 365 Group, a SharePoint site, and a OneNote notebook. This results in duplicate and conflicting ancillary apps, which makes search difficult and creates clutter and confusion for End Users. If you have a Team-created SharePoint and an intranet SharePoint site with similar or identical names (‘Finance’ or ‘All Company), how do you know which one to use? This can be prevented if IT is responsible for creating the group and can control naming conventions and group properties.  
IT seems to be having a bit of déjà vu. The Public Folder problem exists partly because Users could create whatever Public Folders they wanted to without any IT administration or approval process. That was part of the appeal with Public Folders in the first place, but it also resulted in a mess that many companies are still trying to clean up decades later. If Users are allowed to create groups whenever they want, there could end up being so many of them that it stops enabling productivity and is instead stifling it because Users are spending all their time searching for the correct group. If IT controls the group creation process, they can be a bit more strategic because they have a better view of the overall environment.  
IT needs to ensure compliance is maintained. 
While a User might forget about a group they created once the project or idea has completed, IT is more acutely aware that the group and its information remains in the environment and must be managed. If a group contains highly sensitive information, IT needs to be know, so they can apply certain compliance policies; a User wouldn’t necessarily know what needs to be done to protect that information properly. IT could ensure that the correct tags, and properties were selected upon group creation to avoid becoming non-compliant. This might also prevent groups being randomly deleted and losing corporate data because someone accidentally selected the wrong option.  
IT needs to protect corporate information.  
Adding on to the compliance piece, IT is also concerned about protecting sensitive corporate information and IP. If a User creates a group without IT’s knowledge and the group is not secured with the appropriate policies, that data could be at risk if it gets into the wrong hands – if an unsecured device, or thumb drive is lost or stolen, or someone outside the company gets access, you may face legal, financial, and reputational repercussions. It’s important that IT has a touchpoint with the person(s) who want the group created so they know what type of data the group contains, and what policies, and retention labels to apply.  
 
So, what is the answer? 
Should End Users, be able to create their own Office 365 groups and is it a good or a bad thing? It seems that most of the presenters came to the same conclusion – ‘maybe’, and ‘neither’.
As Sarah Haase eloquently stated, The question should not be, do we turn it on or do we turn it off. It’s how do we enable our Users to leverage the technology to drive business value and what requirements do we [IT] have for that. Turning it on or turning it off is the classic IT pro approach to saying we need a rule about this, and I would far prefer that we think about what do we need to enable from the User’s perspective and how do we put appropriate controls and rigor [in place] given the type of company we’re working for, and the type of culture that we have in place, to be able to support education and learning and to be able to actually help them [Users] understand why these things are important. So, I think that has to be the perspective rather than the debate about whether it’s good or whether it’s bad.” 
Here are some of the suggestions that were uncovered during this discussion: 

  • Training is necessary. Communicate Office 365 groups best practices and processes like naming conventions or checking to see if a group already exists for the same purpose. You can’t expect End Users to automatically know or guess these things. Create a quick how-to guide or set up office hours or a Q&A webinar.   
  • Encourage true understanding of the tool. This goes along with training, but if Users are able to create groups, then they should understand what that entails (a new SharePoint site, etc.). IT should try and answer the ‘whys’ that users have if they are not able to take action or do something a certain way.  
  • A group might not always be the best tool to use – a recommended tool matrix could be helpful, so Users know when to use a group.  
  • If Users are unable to create groups for some reason, there should be a quick group approval/creation process in place, so that the Users innovation is not hindered (especially true if your company culture is based on innovation).  
  • Having some sort of IT touchpoint when groups are created, and placing alerts on inactive groups, can help IT manage groups, while allowing Users the freedom to create them on their own.   

In short, it’s important that IT balances User’s Office 365 Groups needs with IT’s requirements to achieve maximum productivity, collaboration, and compliance. What are your thoughts on the topic?