Getting Started with Microsoft 365 Groups
Pretty much everyone in the world of IT knows what a Distribution List (DL) is. In the email realm, when you send an email to the list, each member of the list receives the email. Pretty simple, right? Nice and efficient. Microsoft Exchange Server does provide some limited configuration options in terms of who can join the list, if approval is required by a Manager (admin), etc. But, that’s pretty much the nuts and bolts of the process.
Fast forward a few decades and Microsoft created the next evolution (revolutionary?) of email distribution lists/groups – the Microsoft 365 Group (originally branded the Office 365 Group). One of the biggest reasons Microsoft wanted to expand on the relatively simplistic nature of DLs was to enhance collaboration. And enhance they did! Besides being able to email members of your group, you now have a plethora of communication options and mediums for this collaboration. Here are the main features:
- Shared Inbox – This is most like a traditional Shared Mailbox. All members of the M365 Group can collaborate via email here. Users have the option of having these emails appear in their own Inboxes.
- Group Calendar – A private calendar that allows your team to schedule meetings, private events, time off for staff, and other productivity-based appointments.
- Document Library – A file repository that lives on a newly created SharePoint Team Site. This allows your users to share files, and collaborate on them simultaneously in realtime.
- OneNote Notebook – This provides your members with a OneNote notebook that allows you to keep private notes about your team project. Like the other methods listed here, you can access them from many applications/locations. I’ll cover the access methods a little bit later.
Before I demonstrate how to create new Microsoft 365 Groups, let’s learn a little about how they are connected across various Microsoft 365 services. Microsoft 365 Groups get created when you:
- Create a Microsoft Team
- Create a Group in Outlook
- Create a SharePoint Team site (default)
- Create a Plan
Users, of course, don’t need to know about what goes on behind the scenes when say, a new Team is created. But as an M365 Admin, it would behoove you to have a solid understanding of the process. This will allow you to demonstrate to your users and to better educate them on the benefits of Microsoft 365 Groups. There is additional value – you will be more efficient during troubleshooting scenarios when responding to user requests for support.
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When you create a new Team, a (hidden) Microsoft 365 Group gets created to, at a minimum, to manage the membership of the Team. Everyone that becomes a member of the Team becomes a member of the group. When you create a new SharePoint Team Site, a new Group is created. By default, this new group will be hidden from Outlook clients. If you want to allow these groups to be listed in the Global Address List in Exchange, use this PowerShell cmdlet:
Set-UnifiedGroup -Identity emailaddressofMicrosoft365Group@tenant.onmicrosoft.com -HiddenFromExchangeClientsEnabled:$false
When you create a Plan, the default option is to create a Microsoft 365 Group to link this Plan with. You do have the option of adding it to an existing group. You’ll see that when creating a new Plan from the Planner website:
Let’s start with creating a new M365 Group in Outlook for the Web:
- Scroll down to the bottom of your email folder tree.
- Right-click on Groups and click New group.
- You’re presented with the ‘New group’ dialog box.
- Enter the name of the group, and the description.
- The default options are for the group to be Private (vs Public), to use your native language, and for members to receive all emails from the group in their own Inbox.
- If you want to make any changes, click the Edit link. If you’re good with how it looks, click Create.
The Group will be created. You will then be asked to Add members.
- You can choose to add users from your organization by adding their names or email addresses, or, if you want to do this at a later time, click Not now.
At this point, you’re all set! Your new Microsoft 365 Group is ready to use. Let’s view the new Group in the Outlook desktop app:
Right in the middle of the toolbar across the top, you’ll see the various features of the Group – Email, Calendar, Files, Notebook, and Group Settings. We’re in the Email view now. Click on Calendar and you’ll see the new Group Calendar pop open in a new window:
Click on the Files button and your SharePoint Document Library website will launch:
Here, you can upload files, create new files, and collaborate with your team members with the robustness of SharePoint Online.
Back in Outlook, click the Notebook button and OneNote Online will launch:
The beauty of all these features is that you have so many ways to access the same, central data.
- For the OneNote notebook, you have the website, your OneNote 2016 desktop app, the OneNote for Windows 10 app, and the OneNote mobile app.
- For your Files, you can utilize the SharePoint website and the SharePoint mobile app. You can also ‘Sync’ the files with the OneDrive Sync application on Windows 10 and macOS. This way, you can use File Explorer to seamlessly access your Group’s shared files. The relatively new Office mobile app is an excellent mobile solution for you.
No, I didn’t forget the last button/feature I mentioned in the Outlook client – Group Settings
Here, you can Add Members directly, Invite Others to the Group, Edit the Group, and Leave the Group. You can also adjust how you want to receive email and calendar/meeting updates in your private Inbox. With ‘All Email and Events’ selected, any email that gets sent to this Microsoft 365 Group will also appear in your own inbox in Outlook.
(If you are the sole Owner/Admin of the Group, you will not be able to leave it)
If you click Edit Group, you’ll see:
Here you can adjust the Name of the group, and Edit the optional settings. If you click the Members tab on top, you can view the current Members and add Members to the Group.
You can also delete the Group by clicking the Delete group link in the lower right corner.
Well, I don’t know about you, but just going through and writing this post has inspired me to create an entire series of technical and informative posts on Microsoft 365 Groups. In my humble opinion, the engineering that Microsoft put into these groups is amazing. The rich, collaborative features available to your organization are a perfect match for you and your users to be more productive and to achieve and succeed your company goals. Please leave a comment if you have a particular area of focus you would like to see elaborated on or if you’re struggling with a specific feature or workflow aspect in your organization.