Maturity Model for Microsoft 365 – People and Communities Competency
This is an open-source article with the community providing support for it. For official Microsoft content, see Microsoft 365 documentation.
Overview of the Concepts [tl;dr]
The People and Communities competency is focused on ensuring people have the information they need, can discover valuable conversations, ask questions, knowledge share, and loop in experts. It also focuses on individual (and team) skills, profiles, and insights into colleagues to enable effective teamwork and collective activities. It encompasses communities of interest, organizational culture, and working within common values.
Definition of this competency
For organizations to be effective they need to ensure that their staff can work together effectively both as teams and individual contributors. People need to be able to interact with each other effectively, understand skillsets, access expertise, and share interests with the right audiences.
This competency is different from the Communication competency, as it focuses on the interactions between people who are peers or at similar level in the organization, but who might not normally work together in the same department, business unit, or discipline.
Within Microsoft 365, this means multiple individuals communicating across different channels (or as Microsoft sometimes calls them “loops”) to target their messaging or requests to the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
The solution for which channels to use can vary depending on the size of your organization. For example, a small company of 6 might fulfill their need for company-wide communication via an org-wide Team while this approach would be disruptive to productivity in a company of 6,000 people actively using Teams to collaborate on projects.
Common Microsoft 365 Toolsets
- Microsoft Teams
- Microsoft 365 Groups
- Security Groups
- Distribution lists
- Microsoft Graph
- Azure Active Directory
Evolution of this competency
See the Maturity Model for Microsoft 365 - Introduction for definitions of the Maturity Model levels.
Organizations at level 100 have done little to actively support the concepts around people and communities, relying on organic and traditional approaches. They may still have printed phone directories. There are no expectations within the company that personal profiles are completed or updated. Much of the important interaction between employees occurs with in-person meetings, chat, or hallways and often with no clear outcomes.
Systems may exist to support identifying who works in the organization and in which department. Distribution lists are used to communicate with groups such as “All Company” and each department. The processes to update information fall to IT, are essentially manual and undocumented, and lack formal processes to manage their members.
There is little company guidance or recommendation on where to have different types of conversations to be most effective. This leads to most people feeling that, while much information is coming at them, little is what they need to know or actionable. No processes or tools exist to discover whether colleagues have specific skills, areas of expertise, or common interests and values. In project-based environments, it’s difficult to find out who worked on past projects. Communities of interest are serendipitous and do not take place digitally. Most conversations use email as the only communication channel.
Initial level characteristics include:
- There is, at best, basic profile data. This is inconsistent across different systems (e.g. Active Directory, Human Resources Information Systems, etc.).
- Staff profiles, accessible to colleagues, are absent or largely unmaintained; there is no expectation that profiles are completed and updated. Any that do exist are likely to be limited to identifying who works in the organization and in which department (with contact information). Hard copy staff directories may be in use.
- Organization charts are created manually, inconsistently published, and frequently out of date. They may also be shared via email to department members.
- Little has been done to actively support the concepts around people and communities, relying on organic and traditional approaches.
- Email distribution lists are the hub of community activity; the processes to update information belong to IT, are essentially manual, undocumented, and lack formal processes to manage their members.
- There is no company guidance on where to have different types of conversations, share interests, or seek advice and engagement from colleagues.
- No process exists for discovering whether colleagues have particular skills, areas of expertise, or common interests and values. Communities of interest are serendipitous and do not take place digitally. They are effectively invisible to the organization.
- Personal contact, telephone, and email are the primary means of communication.
At this maturity level, many end users don’t know much about their colleagues and are unclear on how they should engage with them or reach out for help with projects and activities; this is also reflected in the amount of untargeted communications. Team building is based on personal knowledge and has little scope. Many staff feel left out or under-utilized for their skillsets. Expertise in different locations is rarely leveraged. Insights and support are often a matter of luck or chance.
Because staff have no access to a reliable directory and may not know the best communication mechanisms to use, colleagues are often overlooked or uninformed. Long-term staff are frequently interrupted with requests for their knowledge, even when others might have been able to assist.
There is little reinforcement of organizational culture and vision. Limited internal communities inhibit supportive colleague relationships beyond immediate co-workers. People use “reply all” despite the impact this has in colleagues’ inboxes. Employees are unable to easily identify who-does-what in the organization, find subject matter experts, or understand the reporting structure. Requests for expertise and questions are often asked via email and then forwarded around the company until the correct subject matter expert is identified; minimal shared insights are created.
At this level, the focus tends to be on creating communication channels for the inner loop. This represents groups of people working together on projects - the organizations usual units of work. Each team may decide how to communicate internally, but there is no enterprise-level guidance on which solution to use based on the project goal. There may be pilots for capturing outer loop conversations (corporate communications, CEO town halls, employee interest groups) in another communication channel.
Repeatable level characteristics include:
- There are likely to be multiple directories, often managed at the department or project level. These may be effective and maintained in some instances, but there is little aggregation, standardization or control. Some of these may draw on definitive sources, such as Active Directory, but without consistency. Centralized directories and people cards may be piloted but have not replaced local versions.
- Staff profile technology is available, which can capture skills and other information, not just contact details. Use is encouraged in some teams, but not enforced. Terminology is not standardized; quality and completion is variable. It is possible to find people and skills across the organization, but this is neither efficient nor assured.
- Community spaces may be piloted, though these are likely to be somewhat ad hoc with little management, oversight, or intended purpose.
- Self-service distribution lists (Microsoft 365 Groups) may begin to be leveraged.
- The focus tends to be on creating communication within known groups of people working on projects (the inner loop).
- Policies and guidance on aspects of People and Communities exist, but this is not tracked, lacks metrics and is not strongly advocated for within the management process. Each team may decide how to act on the guidance based on the project goal and their team preference.
Staff productivity is reduced due to the time spent trying engage the right people in activities, source knowledge and expertise. The attempts to provide technology to support people, groups, and the company culture are compromised by poor data quality, inconsistent approaches, and a lack of commitment at all levels. Staff and management are equally frustrated by this but lack outlets for addressing the issue.
Avoidable mistakes are made due to the right people not being engaged.
Project and other teams are slow to form.
Employees may begin to see the value in separating communication into different channels where the communities are more focused on specific tasks and topics. Email communication diminishes as inner loop and outer loop conversations move to different and more targeted solutions. The way different communities communicate still varies widely by functional area.
Commonality across teams starts to drive where communities are created and set up. Microsoft Teams or Yammer Communities are created based on the type of work people are doing rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Team communication channels are well defined and agreed upon as a standard business process. Processes may not be systemically or repeatedly used to the extent needed for their users to become fully competent in which community they should share information forming gaps in adoption and consistency.
People profiles have additional information populated for skills, expertise, and past projects which can maintained by each individual. People begin using search to identify subject matter experts in the organization instead of emailing multiple people across the organization because they can find better results with people profiles.
Defined level characteristics include:
- Processes exist to create and populate staff profiles in appropriate systems in response to trigger events (new starter, role change, leaver). Compliance with maintaining profiles is a matter for line management.
- Staff have the ability to update elements of their profile and request updates to other attributes.
- Custom profile fields support subject matter expertise identification and other attributes important to the organization.
- Photos are updated from a central source. -Community spaces connect a targeted set of users. The purpose and etiquette of community spaces is defined.
- Profile information is sometimes used as a data source and integrated within systems and processes. It becomes possible to automate organization charts; attempts are made to resolve the inconsistencies this reveals.
- Local directories are in the process of being eliminated.
- Staff know how to identify groups, distribution lists and other groupings for communication and engagement.
End users begin to see the ROI for completing their profiles as they can more easily identify who-does-what across the organization. Working teams and employee interest groups experience an increase in engagement and productivity as they connect in communication channels specific to their goals. In order to solve problems in daily work, employees frequently reach across organizational boundaries based on content ownership, and subject matter expertise they recognize as useful.
A strategic view of all communication channels including email, Yammer Communities, Teams (backed by Microsoft 365 Groups), distribution lists, and security groups increases engagement in the respective communities. These opportunities lead to serendipitous connections between people who might not have previously collaborated. There is an increased focus on self-service for end users to apply solutions and technologies to their work so they can manage their own membership. Manually maintained distribution lists are uncommon having been replaced by dynamic distribution lists and groups, based upon employee characteristics for all company communication, Microsoft 365 Groups for teamwork conversations, and Yammer for company-wide and cultural communication.
Managed level characteristics include:
- Profile fields may integrate with Line of Business data.
- Communities flourish under governance.
- Communities and their members are easily discoverable through search. End users begin following the groups and communities which match their interests, even if not directly aligned with their work.
- Dynamic organization charts are available based on up-to-date data about each employee.
- Staff photos are updated across multiple systems and profiles from definitive, managed source. Photography style is defined.
Users rely on different communication channels to stay informed for their day-to-day work as well as for special interest areas that contribute to company culture. They understand and follow governance best practices to share knowledge in these separate channels, with a high degree of trust in the platform getting their message to the right people. Communication in separate communities is fluid and largely frictionless, allowing easy access to inner loops and outer loops, when useful. Organization charts are no longer manually created as end users use the dynamic organization chart in people cards to identify company structure.
People are connected across the organization based on their skills, interests, and work. Innovative collaborations arise without formal structures. End users use people cards to find more than just organization structure and expand the usage to seeing common documents to spur further collaboration. MyAnalytics helps inform end users on how they are spending their time working with different people and empowering them to keep stronger connections across the organization.
Optimizing level characteristics include:
- Users can maintain important profile data that writes back to Active Directory or Human Resources Information Systems.
- Communities and conversations extend to external participants when it makes a process more effective.
- Employees are finding opportunities to innovate within the company spurred by new connections.
At this level, business leaders and platform administrators implement continuous improvements based on user activities and feedback. Users are proud of the communities they have built and can show real ROI for increased engagement over the way they previously communicated. Senior leadership is actively engaged across the organization, walking the walk and talking the talk.
- An employee interest group is forming and needs a place to share how to get involved.
- An employee needs to share a personnel change with the rest of the organization.
- A project team has been setup to investigate a new product and needs a place to work together, plan, and manage the project.
- A new employee reaches out to the organization for help understanding a technology the company uses.
- A manager wants to recognize an employee or team for their hard work.
- A marketing person is looking for success stories from the organization.
Cost & Benefit
Anecdotes can be incredibly important for demonstrating the benefit of investments in expanding your People and Communities competency. It is powerful when a team says they reached a goal faster or better by centralizing their communication and identifying subject matter experts early that to be involved. A shift in company culture can be hard to measure, though capturing the anecdotes for how people feel more involved, informed, and engaged will demonstrate value. Stories about how an innovation occurred or an insight was gained can be traced back to specific technology investments and support.
Some examples of collaboration ROI include:
- Reduced time to locate critical company updates
- Increased engagement in company initiatives
- Reduced time locating subject matter experts to help answer questions or contribute to projects
- Decreased stress as communication channels reflect urgency and topic
- Innovation as new connections are made across outer loops
Improving your People and Communities maturity means rethinking your processes and decentralizing communication from one channel to multiple areas which best support the topics and tasks at hand. Embracing different levels of persistence and types of interaction with communication in these channels supports end users’ ability to be more focused and deeply engaged in conversation, achieving better results. Empowering your end users to manage their own communities enables IT professionals to focus on a higher strategic level and reduce friction with end users.
Resources to Learn More
- How to Share Org-Wide Communication in Microsoft 365
- Join and create a community in Yammer
- Manage Dynamic Distribution Groups
- Principles of Communication