Group Chats in Teams are a great low-friction way of starting a discussion with an ad-hoc group of colleagues without the added weight of creating a whole new Team. In this article, we’ll look at what group chats have to offer, including brand new functionality (April 2019) to not only add but remove people from group chats.
If you are waiting for Private Channels in Microsoft Teams then you might be waiting for the functionality you don’t need and already have. Private Channels will allow a subset of a team to have a closed channel within the Team to share files and chat.
Starting a group chat in Teams
If you’ve used Teams before, then the basics of this will be familiar to you. Starting with Step A, choose a new chat, then in B, type in the names of the participants.
To keep the Group Chat on topic, though, we’ll use a Group Name for the group chat – which we can access by clicking the drop-down highlighted in C.
The Group Name is really what differentiates a normal multi-person chat from a group chat.
Technically, it’s just a title for the chat itself, but it means if you chat with the same people, but about different on-going topics, then you won’t end up with one long, never-ending chat stream. Each group chat will have its own group name.
When you’ve started a group chat you will notice that it’s very much like a light version of a Teams channel.
As highlighted below in A, we’ve got channel-like functionality with the normal conversation tab as you’d expect for a group chat – but also a Files tab, and the ability to add additional tabs to the team.
One major difference though with the conversation tab versus a channel conversation is that messages aren’t threaded. People don’t reply to a particular message like they do in a channel – each message to the group chat forms part of a single, growing conversation thread.
In B, you’ll see we have call controls to Meet now – including video calling, audio calling and screen sharing with the group, plus the capability to add people to the chat.
If we take a look at the Files tab, you’ll see we can use this to share files with the group chat. This works differently to both Teams channel file sharing or traditional Skype for Business file sharing.
Files shared with the Group Chat are shown in a consolidated view that looks similar to a SharePoint-backed document library, but it actually stored in OneDrive for Business. The Sent by column in the file list is showing who’s OneDrive the file actually resides in:
If we view a file within OneDrive, we’ll see these are stored within a Microsoft Teams Chat Files folder within each participants OneDrive.
Permissions are granted on a per-file, direct basis. This is because there’s no Office 365 group underpinning a group chat:
Adding tabs to group chats
Group chats are like a cut-down version of channels in Teams, and as such we’ve got the ability to use Tabs to pin useful information to the chat itself.
However, unlike a channel – which is part of a Team, Group chats aren’t linked to an underlying Office 365 group.
This means we have a more limited subset of tabs available – so we can’t (for example) create a new Planner tab. We can link to existing content though, like a website to pin to the chat, or add a tab linking to a file that relates to the task at hand:
Adding and removing people from group chats
One of the key features of a group chat is the ability to add people to it as necessary. With Teams and channels, the massive benefit of adding someone to a Team is they have access to the full history and context.
That is of course very different from the one-to-one or three-way chat scenario people are used to with Skype for Business – and if you start off a chat with just one person, then add someone in and give it a group chat name, you might want that history and context, or at least some of it.
When you add someone into the chat, then you have the choice to:
- Not include chat history, like a normal Skype for Business chat
- Include some chat history
- Include all chat history – like a Teams channel
When you do choose to share chat history, note that in addition to chats being shared, permissions will be granted to documents previously shared to the chat, too.
New functionality to remove people from group chats rolling out
The missing piece of functionality for group chats was the ability to remove someone from the chat. Perhaps you’ve added someone accidentally to the chat? Or, perhaps they’ve move roles?
Using Group chats as a lightweight alternative to Teams channels doesn’t work so well if you don’t have that ability to remove people from the chat. As of April 2019, this is now rolling out – and should arrive in your Office 365 tenant any day.
Removing people from the chat can be performed by selecting the participant list, either on the desktop, web or mobile. You’ll see the X option to remove participants when you hover over their name.
You’ll also have the option to Leave the chat too. As there’s no concept of an “owner” for the chat you can safely leave – and even if you started the chat your colleagues can choose to kick you out, too.
When you remove someone from the chat, they keep access to the conversation history up until that point. So, if you accidentally add someone in – and share the entire history – they’ll retain that history.
Like the chat history, any files shared will still be shared after you remove the person from the chat. If you want to remove their access, then you’ll need to find the file in question in your OneDrive for Business Teams Chat Files folder, select Shared and then from the permission list choose Stop Sharing.
With group chats in Teams having great functionality – is there a need to wait for private channels?
Whilst Private Channels aren’t here yet we can assume that they will have several major advantages over group chats:
- A common document library or folder, permissioned to the private channel
- Threaded conversations, bot integration and other channel-only functionality
- In-channel scheduled meetings
- More people can join a channel – 5000 versus 50 in a group chat
And of course, private channels in Teams won’t necessarily replace the need for group chats, either (nor is it intended to).
Splitting up Teams into private channels has the other disadvantage that it’s effectively hiding information away and taking day to day conversations that could be open away from normal channels. Instead using group chats might be better for temporary conversations that need to be private – and keep anything that can be discussed in channels, in channels.
Steve is a Microsoft MVP for Office Servers and Services. He enjoys getting hands-on, solving some of the more complex problems associated with migrating to the cloud or to newer versions of Exchange Server.