Understanding the Relationship between Microsoft Teams and Channels

Understanding the Relationship between Microsoft Teams and Channels

Teams is a huge, complex platform and gets bigger and more complicated every day. It represents a radical shift in how users of Microsoft products have historically managed and accessed their files, and requires a commensurate shift in understanding to take full advantage of it.

While migrating a few thousand users to Teams, I had many opportunities to refine my explanation of Teams security and how Teams relate to Channels. I think the description below has been the most useful…

Think of your Microsoft Teams organization as a gated community, the individual Teams as houses, and the Channels as separate suites within the houses.

Everyone in your organization who is licensed for Teams has access to see that the houses exist, but they can’t necessarily see what’s inside or who else has access (depending on privacy settings in the individual Teams).

If you are the owner of a Team (house), you can make anyone a member of your Team, which is like giving them keys to the front door. Every Team (house) has a General Channel, which is like the common areas of the house: living room, kitchen, etc. All members of a Team (house) have full access to the General Channel (common areas). People within AgriLife can invite guests to join their Team (house). Those guests have full access to the General channel (common areas) in the Team, but limited access to some other functions of your Team (house) and the rest of the community.

Any member of a Team can also create Channels (suites) within the Team. (Guest members might not be able to create channels, depending on your Team and organizational settings.) Channels can be either Standard (like a suite with no door lock) or Private (like a suite with a lock). Only Team members (people with a key to the front door of the house) have full access to Channels (suites) within the Team, and only those Team members who are made members of a Private Channel will have keys to that Private Channel. In fact, Team members who aren’t also Channel members won’t even be able to see that the Private Channel exists.

Private Channels are like secret chambers in the Team (house). Team owners can use management tools to see that Private Channels exist and can add themselves as members, but can’t see what’s in the Private Channel unless they are members. Just like Teams, Private Channels (private suites) have owners who can control access.

You can also open windows into specific rooms of the Team (house) by sharing files and folders with non-members. Depending on how your Team is configured, this function might only be available to Team owners in the General and other Standard Channels (the common and unlocked areas). Any member of a Private Channel can open a window (share a file or folder) with a non-member, because those channel members are assumed to have a higher level of trust than people who only have access to the common areas.

There is so much more to Teams, but this particular relationship between a Team and its Channels is one of the most common sources of confusion from the start. If you have any helpful tips or better explanations, please share in the comments!

Infographic illustrating the relationship between users, Teams, and channels in Microsoft Teams. Click to zoom in.
Infographic illustrating the relationship between users, Teams, and channels in Microsoft Teams. Click to zoom in.

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