This is an open-source article with the community providing support for it. For official Microsoft content, see Microsoft 365 documentation.
The Collaboration Competency article provides an overview of communication concepts within Microsoft 365 and details for each of the five maturity levels from Initial to Optimizing (100 through 500). It adopts a broad, technology-agnostic approach to the business characteristics of communication plus the expected benefits. This article explores how organizations at any level could use the Microsoft 365 suite (and associated technologies) to reach a higher maturity level.
How to move from Initial to Repeatable (Level 100 to 200)
Organizations at the 100 level in many cases have completed the first move into Microsoft 365 as a simple migration of shared folders on a file server into SharePoint. At this level, most collaboration occurs in an unstructured way, unsupported by specific technologies. Task and document collaboration together with knowledge exchange in conversations take place via email or phone, or in person in physical meetings. There is minimal tracking, and an over-reliance on real-time, co-located, in person working. The following are potential approaches to moving from this level of collaboration to more structured and effective methods of collaboration:
Governance & Security
- Provide guidance on how to select different tools for different needs, the key settings to apply and a contact for asking for help in adopting the recommendations. Set out expectations for what the organization wants staff to use and clearly identify and then communicate which tools are not to be used.
- Identify key stakeholders to drive strategic decisions around collaboration styles in the company. This steering committee commonly includes information technology (specifically IT security), human resources, and key leadership roles. It is important to have cross-functional representation in this committee as each function may have different internal and external collaboration needs that should be considered. In small organizations, this may, instead, rest with a leader or manager who takes input from colleagues to achieve the same outcome as a committee.
- With the committee, determine a scalable approach for intake of new collaboration site requests, specifically in SharePoint and/or Teams. This may begin as simply as an email request or form with name, department, site title, internal/external usage, and description, which is rapidly reviewed and actioned or approved. Identify any additional information that needs to be tracked for site lifecycle management at this time.
- Review existing sites, tools etc. and start to manage out any which are unused or create business risk.
- Provide feedback to staff in the form of stories, anecdotes and examples of good and bad use of the tools to support the emerging strategy.
- During site builds, begin evaluating structure of content to determine if there should be multiple sites or document libraries. In file shares, documents commonly all stem from one department or project folder. In SharePoint Online, multiple document libraries can exist in each Team Site. For example, consider a Human Resources team site. There may be different teams working on benefits, hiring, and terminations. These can become different sites or different libraries, depending on the organizational needs and the scope of that work.
- While building document libraries, consider usage of site columns to create metadata instead of folders. For example, in the Human Resources benefits site there may be a site column for “Year” that is used to group the benefits documents as they change annually. There may also be a content type for “Medical Benefit” or “Insurance” to support comparing plans over years as well as tracking different metadata for these document types in the future. Hint: File names generally contain at least one or two pieces of metadata already, though it may be inconsistently used.
- Create different Views in Lists and Libraries to introduce staff to the ways to organize the information they are collaborating on. Think of views as an index for action, not just a list of objects.
This might include adding Status and Categorization columns and grouping and filtering by these. For example:
- Grouped by Status (“Not Started”, “In progress”, “Awaiting review”, “Complete”),
- Filtered by Allocated to =[Me]
- Encourage managers to ask staff not to send attachments. Show staff how to save attachments to a shared space, such as in OneDrive, Teams or SharePoint and to send sharing links from there.
- Provide training on the ability to share document links versus email attachments to support coauthoring and automatic versioning. This can be a short video on better collaboration practices or a more intensive training including additional guidance on better ways to collaborate if you are looking to implement Microsoft 365 at a higher maturity level.
- During document library builds, inquire around the document lifecycle process to identify any tracking or business process needs. This can be shifted from a separate document to be attached directly to the documents in the document library. In the early stages, this may be as simple as a site column with “Document Status” which has choice values of “New,” “In Progress,” In Review,” and “Completed. You may also include a site column for “Assigned To” and choose the responsible party. -Shift activity tracking in Excel etc. into SharePoint lists, Planner, To Do etc. and use these tools in meetings, collaboration sessions and reporting.
- Reinforce the benefits of using the recommended tools and approaches. Call out successes and share stories of issues and near misses associated with level 100 characteristics. At this stage, anecdotes are critical.
- Encourage good practice, discourage older approaches. Consider incentives and disincentives for these. It may take a while to get these incentives into place; generally at a higher maturity level.
How to move from Repeatable to Defined (Level 200 to 300)
At the 200 level, the focus tends to be on document and file collaboration; workspaces (Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, etc.) start to have defined structures and content rules based on specific goals. Each team decides how to best collaborate within that workspace, though there is little reuse and minimal consistency outside each group. Lifecycle management begins to be a consideration in collaboration practices.
Governance & Security
- The steering committee, formed at the 100 level, begins meeting to identify site auditing needs. This may include oversight to external access and site lifecycle to create manual processes for managing both.
- The steering committee defines and documents better collaboration practices for how the company should be collaborating internally and externally aligned with the company culture, size, existing business processes, security, and compliance requirements. The better collaboration practices should include guidance on what system to use when and any systems that are not supported for collaboration at the organization. For example, if a department is working with a vendor on a project it is recommended all collaborations occur on a SharePoint team site with external sharing enabled and the vendor’s access is removed at the end of the project. For a regulated industry, this may require accounts for the vendor on the company’s tenant for greater control.
- Begin actively migrating, archiving, decommissioning and blocking tools and sites that are not aligned with policy.
- Create a community where Collaboration Leads (often Site Owners) can interact within a “safe space” to share better practices, ask each other questions about approaches, and find documentation. This community will lead training and empower site members in future maturity levels.
- Begin the process of Collaboration Leads formally reviewing content within their team sites. Common mistakes or challenges are tracked.
- Begin a beta test for completing user profiles within Microsoft 365 to include projects, areas of expertise, and specifications on roles to be used as a subject matter expertise locator. Focus on the beta group completing profiles and locating other experts with search to improve their ability to collaborate across functions (versus finding experts via institutional knowledge and forwarded email chains until the correct contact is identified).
- If a file naming conventions document exists for previously used systems, review this document under the lens of Microsoft 365 to keep applicable processes and add updates for system changes. For example, the file naming conventions might still apply except for tracking department and version date as these pieces of metadata are captured by which site the document is saved to and the automatic version history. If you applied document tracking metadata like “Document Status,” this information will now also be removed from the file naming conventions. -Identify common metadata across the organization that will be consistent across functions and departments. If a file naming conventions document exists at your organization, use this source to help identify common metadata needs that can be translated from a file name into site columns. For example, if your organization has a list of products, this list should be in the Term Store to ensure all sites using a list for “Products” is consistent.
- Identify the methods for sites to access the common metadata. If site columns should be automatically applied to all sites, this can be achieved through the Content Type Hub. If sites should opt into adding the metadata to their sites, this can be achieved through creating term sets in the Term Store or creating Site Designs for self-service application of common information architecture. For example, you may want each department to manage their own company policies and have all policies appear on one page based on search based off the content type. The content type of “Policy” can be created in the Content Type Hub (for automatic application to the site) or as a Site Design (for self-service application to the site) with columns for “Effective Date” and “Expiration Date.”
- Group sets of collaboration activity together using Hub Sites in SharePoint and Channels in Teams.
- Review the existing sites for collaboration to identify any patterns in site architecture needs. Begin recording these patterns across all sites to develop site templates, increasing consistency across sites and reducing implementation time. For example, all team sites focused on projects for a specific product may have the same document template and library needs.
- With the steering committee, begin identifying better practices for collaboration discussions and the behaviors the organization wants to encourage. This may include email, Microsoft Teams, chats, meetings, and phone calls. Outline what types of conversations belong in each communication method to increase consistency in collaboration communication across projects. This is especially important to support effective cross-functional collaboration.
- Explore team collaboration needs outside basic document collaboration. Some teams may need additional capabilities such as ability to take centralized meeting notes, project tracking, a database for information tracking, a knowledge base, project or technical training, etc. These needs can be included within the scope of the team site creating a one-stop-shop for those team members.
- Ensure staff are aware of the co-authoring capabilities within MS Office in conjunction with SharePoint and OneDrive.
- Ensure staff are aware of the tools for implementing actions and comments across MS Office and Microsoft 365, including @mentions, task creation, tab and document conversations.
- Create central content stores for commonly needed information and documents, such as templates, using Lists and Libraries in SharePoint.
- Create shared folders in OneDrive for team members to store ad hoc content for working on with colleagues within and outside the organization. Define a common folder structure for these, such as: Temp, Private, Shared with Team, Shared with Everyone, Shared Externally.
- Develop and use common language and terminology for collaboration activity, tools and locations.
- Review the documents used for tracking and current business processes to map the information needs to capabilities within Microsoft 365 (like Microsoft Lists, Planner, Project, and To Do to identify the best solution). Begin beta tests within working groups to evaluate the transition to these new options that can integrate into their existing team sites.
- Establish common Buckets and Tags in Planner to ensure both consistency and ease of use for staff operating across multiple plans. Where appropriate, align these with document categories.
How to move from Defined to Managed to (Level 300 to 400)
Organizations at the 300 level being to find commonality across teams driving how workspaces are created and set up. Sites or Teams are created based on the type of work which will be done rather than just using out of the box templates. Document templates exist within the workspaces or are available from a wider intranet. The process of collaboration is well defined and agreed as a standard – and understood - business process. There are sets of defined and documented standard processes established, signed off, in use and subject to some degree of improvement over time. The processes may not have been systematically or repeatedly used to the extent needed for their users to become fully competent or the process to be validated in a range of situations, hence there are gaps in adoption and consistency. This could be considered a developmental stage - with use in a wider range of conditions and user competence development the process can develop to next level of maturity.
Governance & Security
- The policies on how to collaborate, which technologies to use and what good practice behaviors processes are required will need to be enforced as part of the elevation to level 400 working. Legacy approaches should be actively eliminated (except where there is robust justification for retaining them), late adopters need to be actively retrained and re-tasked. Line management intervention may be needed to ensure compliance. Meanwhile, line managers should be made increasingly responsible for ensuring organizational standards and ways of working are implemented.
- Collaboration Leads train the organization on better collaboration practices to support productivity and compliance with the collaboration guidelines. More formal support is added to ensure all collaborators have a deep understanding of sharing, coauthoring, and external access. The focus in this training is improving productivity within and outside the organization with an emphasis on the common mistakes or challenges that have been tracked.
- The spectrum of collaboration is considered by the steering group, including:
- Ad hoc, regular and structured collaboration
- Real-time, near real-time and ‘as-required’
- Routinely review data and feedback to identify improvement projects, target training, and support active teams. In parallel, use the same sources to archive or remove end of life or unused collaboration areas and tools.
- With the steering committee, create a one-pager for external collaboration guidelines to be socialized across the organization. Depending on the organization, collaboration might be added to the formal IT security training that is required for all employees.
- Ensure that collaboration need not be constrained by time, location or device: i.e., enable anytime, anywhere, any device collaboration, within security boundaries and practices.
- Begin reviewing auditing options to measure and track all security, external collaboration, and internal collaboration best practices. This was previously done manually on a case-by-case basis so the exploration is extending to more automated solutions which may include tools like the audit log.
- Begin meeting with other enterprise system owners to identify and align common metadata across systems. Begin researching integration opportunities for automatic synchronization of metadata across systems. Seek opportunities to embed enterprise systems within collaboration spaces; for example, embedding them within Microsoft Teams as tabs, to allow channel and tab conversations within teams using the applications.
- Collaboration Leads frequently review sites to ensure alignment with collaboration guidelines. This may include review of permissions, unique permissions, information structure, metadata, and potentially similar collaboration sites.
- The review of auditing options for governance and security will also support implementing effective strategies for content to be shared across organizational boundaries and externally without loss of governance or control.
- Ensure staff are fully familiar with the co-authoring capabilities within MS Office in conjunction with SharePoint and OneDrive.
- Ensure staff are fully familiar with the tools for implementing actions and comments across MS Office and Microsoft 365, including @mentions, task creation, tab and document conversations.
- Collaboration Leads train the organization on better collaboration practices extending past document management and other integrated solutions in Microsoft 365. More formal support is added to ensure all collaborators have a deep understanding of where to communicate during collaboration and how to track tasks across projects. The focus in this training is improving productivity within and outside the organization with an emphasis on the common mistakes or challenges that have been tracked.
How to move from Managed to Optimizing (Level 400 to 500)
At the 400 level, a more strategic view of platform apps and services leads to a mixed-use set of solutions. Collaborative opportunities exist not just to facilitate ongoing work, but also to support areas of interest, centers of excellence, etc. These opportunities lead to serendipitous connections between people who might not have found each other before. Usage of the technology may also drive performance improvement efforts, since high functioning teams usually generate better practice uses of the platform.
Governance & Security
- Employ data, analytics and feedback to understand collaboration needs and habits and how to continually improve across the full spectrum of collaboration modes and across platform, people and process. This could include understanding how to create more effective teams and configure their collaboration workspaces accordingly.
- Begin exploring automation options to enforce governance and security guidelines which have been manually maintained to this point. This may include solutions like retention labels, sensitivity labels, flows in Power Automate for site lifecycle management, custom development, or third-party solutions. The focus is on reducing manual interventions to support the business processes so the platform owners can focus on future innovations.
- With the steering committee, determine a feedback cycle to continually review existing practices to support more effective collaboration. New releases and improvements to the collaboration guidelines are discussed throughout the year to ensure the newest Microsoft 365 releases and their impacts to existing processes are considered.
- There is an increased focus on using existing metadata to present content in a search-based manner, reducing the manual work of content curation and decreasing the likelihood of duplication of content.
For example, you may being exploring automation of metadata and centralized knowledge management through tools like Viva Topics to create topic cards, automatically surface related documents, and showcase subject matter experts.
- Begin creating template solutions for the patterns identified earlier across collaboration sites. These solutions should have a self-service or clear request process ensuring organizational understanding and usage. For example, there may be a common project lifecycle at your organization that can be supported through multiple site designs for project initiation, project approval, and project closure.
- Explore automation opportunities to extend existing metadata to support downstream business processes. For example, a document with a “Document Status” of “Final” triggers a Power Automate flow to email the project manager for document approval. Once approved, the tasks in Planner are automatically marked as complete and the document “Approval Date” column is populated.
- Explore options for Power Automate based notifications, reminders and discovery of content and subject matter experts who can contribute to collaborative activities.
- Take advantage of existing and emerging AI driven agents and helpers, such as Cortana Scheduler, My Analytics and Work Analytics.
- With the steering committee, review feedback from the extended collaboration guidelines focusing on communication and task management improvements. Identify organizational expectations for all projects’ task management and how to surface tasks across projects and functions in a centralized location. This centralized location should also support individual task management tracking.
- Implement training on using the centralized location for task management ensuring enterprise-wide usage. This training may include formal sign-off and a supporting company policy, depending on the organization. External collaborators may also be required to attend this training ensuring consistency in collaboration styles internal and external to the organization.
Leveling up your collaboration maturity means you are rethinking processes - continually. This leads to direct benefit as you shift from “the way we’ve always done it” to “how could we do this better?” With collaboration at its core, the Microsoft 365 platform can be an incredible enabler of better practices. This can only be realized if your organization continues to learn, grow, and evolve its practices, striving for improved collaboration.
Join the Maturity Model Practitioners: Every month we host sessions exploring the value and use of the Microsoft 365 Maturity Model and how you can successfully develop your organization using Microsoft 365. Each of these sessions focus on building a community of practitioners in a safe space to hone your pitch, test your thoughts, or decide how to promote your use of the Maturity Model. Sessions may also include a brief presentation about the Maturity Model including recent updates.
- Introduction to the Microsoft 365 Maturity Model
- Maturity Model for Microsoft 365 - Collaboration Competency
Principal author: Emily Mancini, MVP, UXMC