Demystifying Office 365 Groups

In recent months I have noticed that Office 365 Groups is still a topic being discussed in many organizations. Often within those discussions, I hear incorrect or misleading pieces of information. So, I decided to talk about this topic and try to add some clarity to what an O365 group is and what tools can be used within the organization. Let’s start with the basics:

What is an Office 365 Group?

At its simplest level, an Office 365 Group is a way to centralize or group membership for multiple Microsoft Products in one single place. It allows administrators to apply policies at the group level instead of doing so at the product level.

How Does an Office 365 Group Work?

Most of us are already familiar with the concept of a group. It’s that thing we contact IT about when we want to grant new members access to certain files and folders. Each time we contact IT for a group, they create what is called a “Security Group.” This group and its members are stored in Active Directory (AD).

Office 365 Groups are not that different. When an Office 365 Group is created, it is stored in a similar place: Your Tenants Azure Active Directory, or AAD.

Under the covers, there is really no difference between a Security Group and an Office 365 Group. They both store user membership information; they both help secure files, folders, and applications. To be honest, the only difference is how and where they are created.

At this point, you might be asking yourself: “Cool, so both types of groups are the same, what’s the big deal with Office 365 groups then? Why is everyone talking about them like they’re the next big thing?”

Well, it’s very simple. What makes Office 365 Groups amazing is what happens when the group is created. When a user creates a new Office 365 group, there are several background processes, commonly referred to as robots by Microsoft, that are automatically creating a workspace for the new group within the various Microsoft Products.

What this means is that by creating an Office 365 Group, the background processes will automatically create an Exchange mailbox for the group along with a SharePoint site for the group to collaborate and store documents. It will then allow the group owners to optionally create each of the following (if needed):

  • Power BI workspace
  • Planner Boards
  • Microsoft Team
  • Yammer

To clarify, an Office 365 Group is not a product, nor does it compete with any other Microsoft Products. It is simply an online security group, with background services that provide products for collaboration and teamwork.

Six Important Things to Keep in Mind When Using Office 365 Groups

  1. Who can create Groups? By default, anyone in the organization can create Office 365 Groups. This cannot be disabled. However, it can be managed.
  2. How are Groups created? A Group will be created each time any of the following actions occur in Office 365: 1) A new Plan is created in Planner 2) A new Team Site is created in SharePoint 3) A new Group is created in Outlook 4) A new Workspace is created in Power BI 5) A new Team is created in Microsoft Teams.
  3. How many people can be added to a single Group? Each group can have a max of 10 owners and about 1000+ members.
  4. Can I add users outside of my organization to a Group? Office 365 Groups can host external members, also known as Guests. These are not the same as External Users in SharePoint.
  5. Can anyone join a group? Office 365 Groups can be private or public. A private group does not mean it is hidden. It simply means that a group owner must manage the membership of the group. A public group means users can join and leave the group as they wish.
  6. How do I secure highly confidential assets within a Group? You can apply classifications to groups which will apply to all the connected products. This means an administrator can classify a group as confidential. This confidential classification will apply to each of the products. Soon, security and DLP policies will be applied automatically based on group classification.

Why Should I Use 0365 in My Organization?

We’ve all experienced, at one point or another, the pain of an overly locked down workplace, where access to the files and tools we need to do our jobs are not readily available without additional requests and lengthy approval processes. With advancements in the cloud, users now have the ability to bypass IT with on-demand solutions at their fingertips. If you don’t give your teams the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and collaboratively, it’s almost certain they will find a way to do so on their own. This practice is known as Shadow IT and can lead to series issues down the line.

By providing Office 365 Groups to your organization, you are providing team leaders, project leaders, and business leaders with a choice to manage their own Group memberships and allow them to use whatever technology or products that best fit their needs.

The team might start off small -- maybe email, a calendar and even some files in the beginning. But later, they could be using a full-featured SharePoint site, Planner, to manage Tasks and a Power BI Dashboard to visualize status. The possibilities are endless.