Welcome to Microsoft Teams – the new hub for collaboration in the modern workplace! Microsoft Teams is part revolutionary and part evolutionary – a whole new way to connect and integrate data, applications, and communications by bringing together familiar pieces of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem (and introducing some new ones).
Microsoft Teams is a collaboration and communications tool as well as a development platform. As a collaborative tool, it allows users to natively leverage existing applications such as Exchange calendaring or SharePoint document management. As a communications tool, it replaces the instant messaging and telephony capabilities of Skype for Business. And, as a platform, it provides internal and external developers ways to integrate data in third-party external applications (such as Salesforce or Adobe Document Cloud) as well as use Microsoft-based tools to connect to cloud-based services and applications (such as Dynamics 365, Power BI, or Planner).
In this chapter, we're going to review the foundational concepts of Microsoft Teams, including:
- User interface
Once you have those basics under your belt, we'll be getting into the more advanced features and capabilities.
Let's get going!
Microsoft Teams is a collaboration and communications tool as well as an application development platform built on several existing cloud services. While it may present a simple User Interface (UI) on the surface, Teams brings an enormous number of technologies to bear, all unified under a single experience. These diverse components and services make up the Microsoft Teams architecture.
The core object in Microsoft Teams is a team, which is based on a Microsoft 365 group. A Microsoft 365 group is comprised of an Exchange group mailbox, a SharePoint site collection, and a OneNote notebook. Microsoft Teams adds additional features, structures, and extensibility to that Microsoft 365 group.
From an implementation perspective, any Microsoft 365 group can be converted or extended into a Microsoft Teams object (some authors and articles may use the term teamify to communicate the idea of converting a standard Microsoft 365 group into a team).
You might think of a team as a sort of container object that can be used to group related conversations and resources. Inside the team, channels can be used to further organize content around topics, departments, projects, or other categories. Figure 1.1 shows the Microsoft Teams user interface and how these concepts of teams and channels are presented:
Different content types such as files and messages are stored and managed inside the team. While a Microsoft 365 group by itself is somewhat of a flat object, teamifying a group creates structures and linkages inside that object. Figure 1.1 shows both the team channels (such as subfolders). Each of those channels maps to a unique subfolder inside the Microsoft 365 group's corresponding SharePoint Online site, as shown in Figure 1.2:
The exception to this is a private channel. Private channels are used to restrict information to a smaller subset of users in the team. Private channels have their own membership list. In Figure 1.2, the Financials channel is identified as a private channel by the lock icon next to its name. Private channels show up in the team channel hierarchy, but the channel's file content is actually stored in a separate SharePoint site with a different set of permissions. This prevents users who are members of the team (but not the private channel) from gaining access to the data stored in that channel.
The following diagram shows a deeper look at the connection points between services, applications, and storage inside the Microsoft Teams ecosystem:
- Calendars and meetings
Let's expand further on some of these.
It should come as no surprise that identity is the core of everything in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. Microsoft has emphasized the phrase "identity is the security boundary" as part of its zero trust design principles. Azure Active Directory (Azure AD or AAD) provides the identity storage and authentication functionality for all Microsoft 365-based workloads.
As we just noted, Azure AD stores a Microsoft 365 group, which is the directory object on which a team is built. Azure AD also holds other security principals (such as user and guest accounts), which can be added to Microsoft 365 group (and team) memberships. All of these identity components provide the infrastructure and security for all Microsoft workloads.
As we discussed a few paragraphs ago, a Microsoft 365 group (and by extension, a team) also includes a group mailbox component. There is no corresponding Exchange on-premises "team" or "Microsoft 365 group" feature and no capability to move the mailbox component on-premises – it is Exchange Online only.
Each Microsoft team has a default channel named General, which can neither be deleted nor renamed. Figure 1.1 depicts a team and how channels are displayed. Channels are typically used for group-related content. The Posts tab on any channel contains text conversations (such as a bulletin or social media chat board). Chat content posted in a team's conversation is first processed by the Azure chat service and then stored in the team's corresponding Exchange Online group mailbox to enable compliance features (such as retention and eDiscovery). Chat or instant messaging content transmitted during a chat transaction is ingested into the participating users' mailboxes.
Each team is connected to a SharePoint site. Files can be uploaded directly to the team's SharePoint site, to a particular channel's Files tab, or posted in a channel's Posts tab. Any file posted to a channel's Posts tab will automatically be uploaded to the team's SharePoint site, and a link to the actual file will be placed in the conversation.
Call or meeting recordings were originally processed by Azure Media services and then encoded for long-term storage in Microsoft Stream. Microsoft has recently updated the architecture and individual user recordings are stored in the user's OneDrive, while recordings of channel meetings stay with the team in SharePoint.
Calendars and meetings
Scheduling objects rely on a user's Microsoft Exchange mailbox. The user's mailbox can be located in Exchange Online or on-premises (though using on-premises deployment will require an Exchange hybrid configuration to work successfully).
You can read more about configuring an Exchange hybrid for Microsoft Teams in Chapter 17, Integration with Exchange Server.
Like calendars and meeting objects, contacts are also stored in an individual user's Exchange mailbox (online or on-premises). Connecting to an on-premises mailbox requires an Exchange hybrid, as detailed in Chapter 17, Integration with Exchange Server.
As you've seen, there are a lot of familiar components in Teams architecture. As a general rule of thumb, communications content is stored in a mailbox (either in the team's group mailbox or the user's mailbox) while file content is stored in SharePoint Online. Other services may interact with and process data streams, but they will typically store communications or file content in one of those locations. It's important to note that the primary Teams data and artifact storage locations are Exchange and SharePoint Online – both of which can be governed by Microsoft 365 data retention policies.
Other Microsoft 365 applications (such as Power BI, Power Automate, or Tasks by Planner and To Do) have their own primary data storage locations. While these applications and services store data elsewhere in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, they have very tight API integration with Microsoft Teams.
Architecture deep dive
Now that you have a basic understanding of the components at a high level, let's go a little bit deeper into both the Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams architectures.
First, we'll look at the Microsoft 365 group architecture.
Microsoft 365 Groups
As we mentioned earlier in the chapter, the foundation of a team is a Microsoft 365 group. The Microsoft 365 group is an Azure AD object that has an Exchange group mailbox, a SharePoint site collection, and a OneNote notebook. Their relationships are shown in Figure 1.4:
- Microsoft 365 admin center
- Azure AD admin center
- Exchange Online
- Dynamics CRM
- Graph API
- SharePoint Online
- Client Side Object Model for SharePoint Online
Microsoft 365 groups provisioned through any of these applications, services, or interfaces will all have the same underlying components (a group mailbox, a site, and a notebook). The provisioning service or application will use the Microsoft 365 Groups membership for its administration and security.
A Microsoft 365 group has the concept of owners (those who can administer the membership or other aspects of the group) and members (those who participate in group messages but cannot control the membership or features of the group). Microsoft 365 group owners are mapped to the SharePoint site collection administrators and site owners groups while the members are mapped to the SharePoint site members group.
The OneNote notebook is stored inside the site assets document library. Files sent to the group are stored in the default document library.
As you can see, a Microsoft Teams team builds on the foundation of the Microsoft 365 group:
- The Wiki data for a team is stored in a new SharePoint list called Teams Wiki Data.
- Channel meeting recordings are stored in the Recordings subfolder of the corresponding channel's folder in the default document library.
- Conversations are stored in the mailbox's Conversation History folder.
- The Channel Calendar data is stored in the group mailbox calendar.
You'll also notice that data and permissions for a private channel are handled differently:
- The file storage location is a new site. The permissions of the site are mapped from the private channel owners and members lists.
- The chat on the conversation tab is stored in the Conversation History folder of the private channel team members (as opposed to the team's group mailbox Conversation History folder).
- Private channel SharePoint sites are linked to their parent site by storing the parent site's object GUID in the
RelatedGroupIDproperty of the private channel site.
You may want to bookmark this section so that you can refer to it as you progress throughout the book and move on to both Teams administration tasks and troubleshooting. There are a lot of moving pieces in the Teams architecture, and it's easy to forget where they fit in.
Next, we'll look deeper into navigating the Microsoft Teams user interface and some of its features.
While we've already seen a little bit of the user interface, in this section, we're going to explore more of it and how the pieces work. We'll start off with a reference image to remind you where things are in general, and then drill down into each of the main areas:
- Menu bar: This area, along the top of the user interface, has both new and familiar buttons. If you're familiar with Windows applications, you'll instantly recognize the Minimize, Restore Up/Down, and Exit buttons at the far right of the bar. New to the Teams interface, the Menu bar also displays Forward and Back navigation buttons and hosts a Search bar, which can be used to search across all Teams areas. The Menu bar also displays the logged-in user's avatar (either their initials or an image if they choose to upload one), along with a small bubble indicating their presence (sometimes referred to as status) information.
- App bar (or left rail): This is the area on the far-left side of the screen where icons such as Activity, Chat, Teams, Calendar, Calls, and Files appear. Administrators can manage the icons that appear here, and users can edit the order of the icons.
- List pane: This is the middle area of the Teams user interface and displays the items that correspond to the view selected in the left rail. For example, in Figure 1.6, the Teams view is selected, so the list pane shows all of the user's currently joined teams. The list pane also features a Filter button at the top of the column, which allows you to search and filter items in the list pane to locate things more quickly, and a Join or create a team button at the bottom.
- Main content area: This is the area on the far-right side of the Teams interface. This area will change to display the content of whatever item is selected in the list pane. For example, in Figure 1.6, the Office 365 Deployment Team is selected, and the main content area is displaying data from the Posts tab.
Now that you're familiar with the overall structure and layout of the Teams user interface, let's expand upon each of the items on the left rail.
If you're familiar with modern applications (social media apps, modern mobile phones, or desktop apps), you're probably familiar with the concept of activity and notifications. Like those modern applications that have notifications, Microsoft Teams also uses notification bubbles to highlight new items.
The Activity view is used to draw your attention to things specifically targeted to either you, a team you're in, or a channel you're in. For example, in the following Activity view example, you can see a few items:
- The user Grant has assigned the logged-in user some tasks.
- The user Grant has modified the priority of these tasks.
- The user Isiah has made the logged-in user the owner of the Contoso group:
As with popular social media platforms, you can use the @ symbol to mention an individual, channel, or team. These mentions will show up in the Activity view for the individual user mentioned (or for each member of a channel or team mentioned), similar to how mentions work in the To line of Outlook. In addition to other users mentioning you or your teammates, apps can also generate notifications that will show up in your activity feed.
Chat and presence
By selecting the Chat view, you can initiate one-to-one or one-to-many (also known as group) conversations. Chat is an essential part of the Microsoft Teams experience. You can search for users from the address book and add them to conversations.
User avatars (both yourself and others you invite) have a presence indicator in the form of a bubble, which lets others know the status of the user. Broad status categories include the following:
- Do not disturb
Each status has a corresponding color. Some statuses may include additional detail (such as Focusing, Presenting, or In a Call). Do not disturb statuses are special in that others cannot contact you during this time (with the exception of people you place on a special list called priority access).
You should already be familiar with the Teams view, which was displayed previously in Figure 1.6. The Teams view shows all the teams to which you're currently joined and gives you a way to navigate the various teams and channels.
The Calls view shows a mix of information, depending on what features are enabled. The view will show various calling items, such as a call log and voicemail history, as well as the option to view contacts stored in the user's Outlook mailbox. If the user has a voice plan included, then the screen will display a dial pad:
The Files view displays files that the user has stored in the OneDrive for Business site, as well as files they have access to through the Teams interface. Additionally, users can configure external storage services (such as Box, Dropbox, or Google Workspace) to make their data visible in Teams.
More added apps
The ellipsis that appears below files is used to show other apps that an administrator has configured and files that have been made available to users in the organization:
The Apps store view contains first-party (created by Microsoft) and third-party apps available to use in the environment. Administrators can block or allow apps and bots from being added to the left rail or channels. Additionally, administrators can deploy apps to individuals or users through policies.
Download mobile app
Clicking the Download mobile app icon at the bottom of the left rail displays a QR code on screen that you can scan with a mobile phone. The QR code directs you to the Microsoft Teams application in the appropriate platform's mobile app store.
The Microsoft Teams user interface is packed full of features and options, connecting you to the different parts of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the locations of the different interface elements, as they'll become important when customizing the experience for your users.
Microsoft Teams is the latest entry in the productivity software space. By incorporating familiar cloud services such as Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, along with an application development environment, Teams provides users and organizations with a broad array of capabilities.
In this chapter, we covered the high-level architecture of Microsoft Teams as well as the major parts of the user interface.
In the next chapter, we'll start looking at ways to build approval workflows for the Microsoft Teams experience.