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Managing Content Sprawl in Microsoft Teams

We’re all aware of how Teams is Microsoft’s fastest-growing product with over half a million organizations using it and approximately 13 million active daily users. For many businesses, Teams fills the gap for team effective communication and collaboration, an area where other real-time communication tools have fallen short. Be that as it may, Microsoft Teams sprawl, while an excellent feature for organic adoption, can present security challenges for the enterprise. When we fail to manage Microsoft Teams properly, it can lead to issues that leave your digital workspace exposed to risk and threats from data misuse.

What is Microsoft Teams Sprawl?

‘Microsoft Teams sprawl’ or content sprawl is what happens when users are allowed to create Teams on-demand without any governance. Making it easier for all the users to create new channels as an option for collaboration or a project may sound like a brilliant idea, but the truth is, you would end up with a large number of rarely used or dead Teams, too many empty channels, and data sprawled everywhere. This causes employees to spend a lot of time trying to look for information on different channels of the Office 365 product and obviously, at times, they can’t even find what they need. As a result, what started off as a great tool for productivity, collaboration and the secure messaging platform becomes an obstacle instead of a facilitator - putting your entire organization at risk. This requires for you to have a proper adoption process present in your company that should be shared with employees during the onboarding process along with the terms of adoption.

How do I Know When Content Sprawl is Happening?

Content sprawl often happens without us even realizing it. It takes place when there isn’t a plan to address outdated content, curate content, or a process to ensure new content is saved in the correct location. It also happens when there isn’t a dedicated manager and cloud Teams governance or when a lot of employees have access to adding content to the workspace. While some of us are well aware of when content sprawl is occurring, others don’t realize until it’s almost too late. The signs of content sprawl typically include:

  • Admins and Users can’t find what they are looking for
  • Search results aren’t working as well
  • Users bother other people, and departments looking for documents
  • Duplicate forms, content, pages, etc.
  • Incorrect versions of documents
  • Uncontrolled Growth

How do I Manage Teams Sprawl?

As content continues being moved to Teams and effective collaboration begins to take off, people are confused as to how they can manage and approach content sprawl.  The most common ways to manage Microsoft Teams Sprawl are:

  • Retention
  • Data loss prevention


Microsoft Security and Compliance retention rules help you apply the retention functionalities to content not only in Teams but across all the other apps in the Office 365 Groups. Starting with a written corporate document retention policy, you will need to define the kinds of content your organization holds important – for instance, invoices, Employee Applications, Contracts etc., how long you would like to keep that content - a year, 10 years, etc., the trigger that kicks off your retention period - Create Date, Employee Termination, Contract End Date, and disposition - delete immediately, forward to compliance for review and action. You can also designate the content as being an “Official Record,” which makes the content immutable.

Data Loss Prevention:

Your tenant has sensitive content on it: Social Security Numbers, Credit Card numbers, Passport numbers, Bank Account numbers, and other sensitive files - making data loss prevention a necessity. There are lots of good reasons why that kind of content might be on your tenant and why staff may share, discuss, and include this kind of content in docs, emails and conversations as part of their duties. What isn’t good is when that content goes places it shouldn’t go, when it is exposed to users who shouldn’t see it, or when it leaves the tenant. This causes security risks. To prevent such things from happening, understanding attacker behavior is essential.

How to fix Content Sprawl

Just like cleaning out and arranging your closet, you can make it a once-a-year task, or stay on top of it throughout the year and put stuff in its right place immediately after using it. Fixing content sprawl requires a lot of effort and governance strategies but since content sprawl didn’t happen overnight, it won’t be fixed overnight either. Here are some steps you can take to fix it after the loss of adoption strategies.

How Teams Helps

1. Reliance on Search

You can pretty much rely on the Microsoft Teams search feature to find anything that you can't find in your channels. This acts as an excellent feature when you're looking for a particular document and can't seem to find it anywhere due to lack of governance. It lets you get right to your desired documents in the stroke of a few keys.

2. Version History

This feature in teams is another thing that can help you find the right document without a lot of hassle. Teams creates a version history of similar documents. Using that, you can tell which of the versions was last updated by whom and at what time and date. This cuts your trip of visiting each document looking for a particular version short and shows you all of them at once.

How You Can Help

1. Draw a Plan

Managing content sprawl will be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. While it’s important to invest a lot of effort into a launch, the reality is that it never really ends unless you have a structure of rules put together. So, make sure you have a control structure in place.

2. Take Initiative

The key principle of taking initiative is “Go for it!”. If you’re tasked with cleaning up an existing Teams tenant, it can be scary to go in and start editing, deleting, or archiving content that was put together by previous employees. But just as good pruning is critical for the health of a tree, regular and consistent pruning of our content is critical for the health of the network.

3. Run a content audit

A content audit is a process of categorizing pages and files on your tenant and determining the quality and usefulness of each piece. It’s great for finding relevant content, as well as identifying owners of the content lying around. Doing so will help you understand which posts or pages are redundant or outdated.

4. Have a Dedicated Manager

No matter how small or large your organization is, you should have someone dedicated to refreshing your tenant and adding new content. You should always make sure someone is tasked with overseeing the platform to avoid sprawl.

5. Make Organization a Habit

As we have learned, content sprawl is avoidable if you take the right steps. Try setting an hour aside every week to sift through a section or two. When that becomes easy, make this a daily activity or allocate more time each week. Eventually the practice of archiving, deleting, and re-assigning content will become a habit—just like starting your morning pot of coffee.

6. Have a Governance Model

A well-defined governance structure can help overcome three common intranet governance roadblocks: politics, a lack of clear purpose and a lack of data. A governance model can involve restructuring content or rewriting a policy or procedure page. It ultimately reveals who is responsible for what content and who is going to assist in deciding what to do with content.

Finally, consider asking for some assistance. No one’s perfect and technology can be tricky. With years of experience, Communication Square, A Microsoft Gold Partner can help you improve your navigational structure and determine which content can be removed.

Last Updated 4 months ago

About the Author

Rijah is a professional Marketing Executive & content specialist. You may know her from her greatest hits like, "No, I can't just make it go viral." or "No, you can't have everybody as your audience." and "Yes, you're absolutely going to need a copywriter!"

Rijah Naseem

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