Your Inner and Outer Loops

Conversations about how all the tools in the Office 365 toolbox fit together continue to boil over with stronger and stronger opinions. What products should be dropped or simplified, how the initial launch of Groups should’ve been handled, and what users should be able to turn off and on continue to be points of heated debate.

I’ve made at least two attempts ( here’s one and here’s another ) to frame the growth in collaboration tools, so why stop there? The integration between each of Office’s workloads and Office 365 Groups is growing. The positioning of each workload is also clearing up, as it did today at Microsoft’s Ignite conference, where they made it clear that Yammer is for your “outer loop” vs. Teams for your “inner loop.” The model that follows was starting to form in my head about 6 months ago, and it’s growing increasingly accurate.

I’ll start explaining the model with a brash claim: conversations are the heartbeat of any collaboration. Of course we’re marching toward a deliverable, often a file/document/media of some kind, but that’s the product, not the engine–the created and not the creator. The three primary conversation models should then become our anchors for any collaboration experience.

The primary consideration in where to set up your collaboration environment should be the scope and nature of the conversations.

Email has been used for every size and shape of communication for too long, and that explains both why our inboxes are so full and why it’s so hard to move appropriate conversations away from the inbox. This doesn’t change the fact that email was designed for directed, actionable communications and it would be ideal if its focus returned there. If you have individual messages to send to individuals (even if that happens to be 500 individuals), then email is fantastic, ubiquitous, and not going away. The inbox is all about “ME.”

A team with deliverables, with a purpose, needs to get moving faster than the speed of email. The much less formal, rapid back and forth of a group chat quickly establishes team norms and feels more like you’re in a room together, getting stuff done. There’s a reason they’ve been called “rooms” since the IRC days. The chat room is all about “WE.”

Ancestors of email, chat, and forums

Larger groups–communities, divisions, or entire companies–need to be more inclusive to achieve their goal: harnessing the wisdom of a crowd that is tied together sometimes by only a common interest in a product or innovating our processes. Open forums have been around about 10 years longer than chat rooms, so they’ve evolved further into a few formats, the latest of which is the feed. The fundamental principle behind them was the same: transparency. Forums are about a broader world–your outer loop. In the enterprise, hopefully you trust your fellow employees enough to say it’s about “ALL” of us.

While it’s true that communities or initiatives can be small in number and can feel more like “WE,” when you make this choice, you’re being inclusive, allowing anyone to *potentially* contribute. An initiative to increase quality and innovation should be as inclusive as possible to achieve real business impact.

My individual work, our team work, and our collaboration as a broader organization or community all need supporting tools: files, tasks, events, and the ability to add voice/video to the conversation when we’re apart. Each of these are available or coming soon to each of the experiences in Office 365. Are they harder to find in some experiences than others? Sure. Are there some rough edges? You bet. But make no mistake–a complete table is the goal.

Now, you’ll notice I added a row at the end with some emphasis… It’s an acknowledgement of the elephant in the room: many are reluctant to leave their comfort zone of the “ME” space in order to enjoy the richer collaborative experiences found elsewhere. I usually hear this as some variation on “But I don’t want another place to go!” There’s another post on this site that addresses that perception, so I won’t go into it here other than to say your one place to go is your device–whichever one you happen to be carrying. Your entire toolbox, and all of these spaces for you, your team, and your company, are available anywhere you want to be.