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Yammer or Teams? A tool to think it through

Skydivers in a circle, with an overlay of graphic circles.

Yammer or Teams? A tool to think it through

Microsoft recently rolled out the surfacing of Yammer within MS Teams under a ‘Communities’ app. This is certainly a welcome step towards integration, and it overcomes the dilemma of Yammer being “another place to go”. However, the two tools still have different emphases, and understanding these can help networks set off down the right path.

When to use Yammer vs Teams is a long running discussion. For a time Microsoft advocated their “Inner vs Outer Loop” model which was simple, but it took an individual-centred viewpoint, which seems a little odd for a network-oriented toolset. This post presents a thinking tool that is more nuanced, and more community centric.

Teams vs Yammer optimisations

Superficially, Teams and Yammer look like they do the same thing: you post a message to a group and others reply. You can react with likes and emojis and choose to get notifications on either tool. Crudely put, the headline difference is this:

Yammer is about people, Teams is about documents.

In most cases, the ‘artefact’ that Yammer is built around is the conversation between individuals. That is Yammer’s final output. For Teams though, the conversation isn’t an end in itself; you’re meant to be collaborating to produce something specific and typically that final output is encapsulated in documents (which isn’t to say Teams can’t be applied elsewhere, only that documents are deep in its DNA).

However, the big difference is that Yammer is open by default. You don’t have to be a member of a Yammer community to visit it and learn from it (or even to join in if it’s set up that way). Teams are closed by definition – you have to define membership up-front and you won’t know the Team exists unless you are part of it (or it is an ‘Org-wide’ Team).

The second big difference revolves around serendipity. In Yammer you can choose to follow people (this is what makes it an enterprise social network (ESN) and not a collaboration tool). Topic hashtags can be used too, to bundle conversations together across communities. It means you can stumble onto useful information by seeing what your network is involved in. Yammer’s home feed is therefore an algorithm showing network activity, not conversations you’ve actively opted into.

The four Ps of community

To understand when you might need these different qualities for Teams or Yammer, we need to understand what problem you want to solve. We can think of any kind of people network or community as varying along four dimensions:

  1. People – the relative importance of individuals compared to the group
  2. Purpose – how oriented the group is towards a single outcome
  3. Processes – how much members are connected by a common workflow
  4. Place – the importance of a digital ‘centre’ for the group.
Graphic circles split into quarters, for people, purpose, processes, and place.

Network types such as Communities of Practice (CoPs), teams, departments, even companies are pattern types that emphasise different dimensions of this P model, which in turn map to different strengths of Yammer vs Teams.

Circles showing emphasis on people and purpose.

Communities of practice

Communities of practice revolve around a common interest in a topic, but they also major on the People dimension. What can really make them thrive are often the ‘personalities’ of a community. These are the people that are most active, like a core membership, but they also endow the community with an identity.

Generally, Yammer is the better tool for the job because you want to attract people to the CoP (playing on that serendipity quality), and you also want the insights it generates to be accessible beyond the community too. Yammer’s Q&A feature also plays particularly well to this use case.

Circles showing emphasis on place and purpose.


As you might expect, Projects are the natural fit with MS Teams when the common denominator is the Purpose dimension. Participants aren’t there for each other they are there to collaborate on an output.

The closer ties with document storage in Teams also makes sense, because the definition of the team membership also defines access controls. In this regard, Place is also important: the Team is the home of the project material. Project members may come and go, but the project assets persist (contrast that with a CoP, where the loss of a few core community members can lead to it drying up).

Circles showing emphasis on people and process.

Departments / divisions

Departments in an organization are a trickier one, and even more so when you scale up to a larger division or function level. The Process dimension comes more to the fore. Although multiple objectives may be pursued, there will be a common workflow and often interdependencies to co-ordinate.

Consider a blended approach here – Teams for specific projects or functional teams that want to keep things private, but Yammer as a way for a larger division to ‘work out loud’. This second element is important for co-ordination and for bridging silos, where action by one part of a division may well have a downstream effect on another, but all too often doesn’t’ come to light until it is too late.

Hashtags can be a powerful way to get alerts to activities you want to know about, and are a cross-channel dimension wholly missing on Teams. Narrating what is going on in Yammer is also much more agile than monthly manager co-ordination meetings or the like.

Circles showing emphasis on people and place.

Company-wide comms

Finally, we come to internal communications. Now, more than ever, as we miss a sense of common Place in the physical world, employees look for a digital equivalent.

It’s a role that Microsoft has been steadily growing for Yammer as a communications ‘amplifier’. But it’s not just about broadcasting news (SharePoint does that best) but also about conversation at scale. Unlike Teams, you can embed a Yammer conversation in SharePoint to get this balance too.

The inherent openness of Yammer makes it great way for leaders to have more transparent dialog (a prospect which can also terrify them). It’s also a way for leaders to take the pulse of the organization in a way that they may have done with town halls and roadshows in the past, or (rather stodgily) by waiting for annual survey results to come in.

No hard rules

Of course, across all of this, there will be exceptions. Just as you can eat soup with a dessert spoon: it may not be optimised for the task, but the simplicity of one tool has advantages too.

In particular, if you are a smaller organization, you may find that using MS Teams in all instances is a better fit. Just bear in mind that there’s a limit of five org-wide Teams across an entire tenant, so plan for channels rather than Teams where the ‘People’ dimension matters most.

This article was originally published by CMSWire.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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