Office 365 Teams: The Surprising Disruptor

Laurie Fischer | November 15, 2018
October was once again packed with conferences, from large international events to smaller regional and industry-specific seminars and roundtables. If there was one word that was thematic across all of these events this year, it was “disruption.”

It has lead me to ask, “what is the most disruptive innovation today related to how we manage, control and govern our information?” While the GDPR and burgeoning international, sectoral and national data privacy and security laws may first come to mind, they are reactive regulations to the growing threat of cyberattack, ransomware assaults and security breach. Responding to these malevolent actions certainly requires organizations to re-think their approach to information security and develop enhanced programs and processes, but I wouldn’t characterize these as disruptive innovations.

Actual disruption is taking place right in front of us changing the way almost all of us work and interact with technology on a daily basis. It’s called “collaboration”! Collaboration is now simply part of the way we work, as evidenced by everything from open concept floor plans, to team-building events to the disturbing proliferation of shadow IT apps that allow sharing outside of the corporate firewall.

What makes collaboration particularly disruptive is the way it has changed and continues to change how we communicate with one another in the work environment, starting with email. Originally, email was a mechanism for transmitting messages electronically and instantaneously. It was also a much-improved method for sending presentations, contracts and spreadsheets, as well as scanned documents (goodbye fax machines!). Email evolved into the de facto collaboration tool, albeit not a great one, as workers used it to collaborate on these documents and on conversations regarding business events and decisions.

The email-centric method of collaboration has been far from perfect, however. Email was never meant to be a collaboration system, let alone a business record repository. Email results in what we call “sequential collaboration,” significant duplication and “single source of truth” confusion. Many emails may go back and forth among those working together on a presentation, but the same number of emails are likely exchanged trying to determine who has the latest version! Collaboration by email also has caused significant headaches for corporate legal and information governance departments as they struggle with the astronomical growth of email and related archives, all discoverable, resulting in increased e-Discovery risk and cost to the organization.

Enter Microsoft Office 365 (O365). If your organization has not yet evolved to cloud computing via O365, take a walk down to your IT department and ask them when (not if) this will occur. You may be surprised to learn that you have been on O365 (“Exchange”) for the last six months. And if you are an IG or legal or privacy professional, now is the time to demand to be included in future discussions, since the deployment of O365 will impact how information is retained, defensibly disposed, controlled and secured and, if thoughtfully implemented, can facilitate the organization’s information governance goals.

One of the key components of O365 is Teams. With Teams, individuals can coauthor and share files such as Office 365 apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint, etc.) in real time. Teams also incorporates persistent chat and online meetings, allowing the hosting of audio, video and web conferences. Organizations that have optimally deployed Teams are reported to have experienced a decrease in the use of traditional email by 40% (goodbye email!).

Teams is particularly disruptive because it serves as a one-stop-shop, not only allowing you and your collaborators to retain all related information and documents in one place, but also allowing ongoing conversation, discussion and immediate collaboration, truly disrupting our current way of working. Contrast that to the need to remember where our documents or email are, whether in Outlook email, on shared drives, or in SharePoint or other repositories.

For many of us, Teams is uncomfortable (at first). I mean, we love our email. However, with adequate training and reinforcement, Teams can be a game-changer. The increase in productivity and reduction of stress and frustration cannot be measured. As we said back in the ‘80s when email came into its own, “how did we ever manage without this?”

But there is a caveat to all this welcome disruption. With Teams there is the potential to create even greater information governance nightmares. The concept of persistent chat alone likely gives the director of litigation a chill. (Didn’t the organization just issue a policy that instant messaging is not considered a business record and therefore will not be retained beyond the IM session? Informal communications have always been a risk when produced in response to e-Discovery requests, and now we are going to keep them around forever. What gives?)

The potential information governance problems are why an understanding of the O365 ecosystem is critical. Knowing what type of content is created, where it can be stored and what mechanisms are available to control and govern it is more important than ever. With Teams, content can go everywhere: SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, hidden folders in team member mailboxes, Group mailboxes and Azure by default. And that does not take into account the connectors with external applications. Without an O365 governance operating model that clearly defines the use cases and operating rules for the O365 environment, the information governance challenges will be at least as messy as those many organizations face with shared drives and email.

An O365 planning and deployment team, comprised of IT, Legal, Records and Information Management, Privacy and Security, must ensure that the enhanced governance, security and compliance features of O365 are designed into its implementation and are used in a manner not only to support the collaboration needs of the organization, but also manage and control information in accordance with the organization’s governance goals and objectives.

Yes, it takes time and resources to do it right, but the results are, well, positively disruptive!

If you would like more information about how HBR can help your organization develop an O365 governance operating model, please contact Laurie Fischer,, or Reggie Pool,