By Siobhan King |

April 28, 2023

The great debate: Microsoft Teams or SharePoint

In her latest blog, Siobhan King, Senior Consultant at Metataxis, discusses the key differences and challenges of using Microsoft Teams or SharePoint for document management.

To Teams or not to Teams

That is the question that most of our clients have been grappling with since the platform first appeared on the scene five years ago. Many organisations are in a position where they have been actively using Microsoft Teams in some form for around three years. It was the pandemic that forced many of them to take the leap back in 2020, rapidly adopting Teams and yet still telling someone they are “still on mute” is a part of our daily lives.

Teams vs SharePoint

Should you use Microsoft Teams for document management?

While the decision to use Microsoft Teams to conduct online and hybrid meetings is a no-brainer, less straightforward is whether to use Teams as a document management platform.

SharePoint has traditionally owned this space within the Microsoft platform and is indeed the solution that underpins document management within Teams. The key question for organisations over the past few years has been whether they operate in a “Teams-first” or “SharePoint-first” environment. This means, from a user experience perspective, do people live in Teams all day and save their documentation under the Files tab in Teams (which maps to SharePoint) or do they flick between applications depending on which activities they are carrying out?

Initially, when Teams was first popularised, many organisations conceptualised Teams as a collaboration platform while SharePoint continued to be seen as the place to store documents and records. This seemed a safe bet for early iterations of Teams, where the functionality was focussed more around meetings, chat and document collaboration. For the meatier business, such as managing documents and records, SharePoint was more appropriate because you could add metadata, create content and apply controls such as retention labels. But increasingly, as the Teams integration starts to catch up, this argument seems less and less relevant. Today, Teams makes use of many of the same functions as SharePoint, including content types, document sets, columns, term sets, edit in grid and retention labels. The argument about Teams vs SharePoint does seem redundant, especially from a compliance perspective.

Control and compliance

In terms of controls, there is one reason why your organisation might prefer SharePoint to Teams as a document and records repository.

In SharePoint, there is slightly more scope for centralised control of things like external sharing than there is in Teams. Currently, SharePoint Admins are able to set more restrictive rules across the board than Teams. There is generally more scope to set things to the least permissive level possible, whereas Teams Owners have more leeway. If your organisation has a lot of sensitive information that needs to be controlled, you might want to think carefully about adopting Teams as a document repository.

Secondly, if your organisation has a group of Site Owners and Teams Owners who have a poor understanding of how the platform works, or of your information compliance requirements, you might be minded towards a more controlled environment. You will of course need to provide your Teams Owners with a lot of support to understand how things like sharing and Guest Access work – though you would need to do this anyway.

Managing your document libraries

The other thing you might need to think about is the way Teams and Channels translate into SharePoint document libraries. Whenever you create a Team, the channel structure is replicated in a SharePoint site under a document library called General.

SharePoint document library

There are all sorts of implications to consider here, including the risk of sprawl and deep folder structures, especially when it is left up to users to create. Teams members are able to do a lot more than SharePoint site members – it’s network drives all over again! If you’re wanting some form of control over your site structures, then you will need to look carefully at how you’re using Teams right now and whether this is feasible based on how you currently organise your information. Are your Teams naturally very simple and easy to navigate? If so – great. Teams could just do the job for you. But if your Teams are a bit of a mess already, you might need to think carefully about how you manage this.

User experience and usability

There is another very simple but significant consideration in this debate, and that is usability.

Having columns in Teams is all very well, but it’s no good if you have several columns that you need to be able to see at once and you have to do a lot of scrolling, or shrink the screen to a microscopic size to see all the detail you need. This one is a difficult one to get around. The truth is for activities that require a lot of data on the screen, operating in Teams is really clunky. It’s also not particularly easy to add metadata to documents in Teams right now, even with grid view. It seems really picky on such a seemingly small thing, but this is something that will a major impact on someone’s day. Your records repository is dull and unsexy enough already for users (sorry, but it’s true) – don’t make it even less desirable by giving it a horrible interface.

Key considerations: control, design and preference

Of course, Microsoft Teams is a work-in-progress and we’ll continue to watch and see how this powerful tool will evolve further over time. But increasingly, as I’m seeing as things converge, the key considerations are maintaining a level of control, design and preference.

 Optimise your Microsoft 365 environment to get the most out of Teams & SharePoint today