Knowing is Half the Battle: What’s the Difference Between SharePoint Sites, Teams Sites, and Group Sites in Office 365

Note! The content in this post serves as a general suggestion and overview and may not apply for your specific requirements.

It can be difficult to navigate the levels and functionalities of Office 365, but any organization looking to migrate content to Office 365 should take the time to understand all the tools that the platform provides.

Understanding the different levels and tools of collaboration in Office 365 is essential to making the most of your data, empowering your users, and building a storage and sharing system in the cloud that does the absolute most for your organization. They say knowing is half the battle, and Cloud FastPath is here to help!

SharePoint Sites, Group sites, and Teams Sites: What’s the Difference?

 One of the most common reasons organizations hesitate file servers, and shared drives in particular is how it’s difficult to determine where content best belongs. Many in IT have the approach of “home drives go to OneDrive for Business” and “I’ll just move my shared drives to SharePoint Online sites”. While that may be the right approach to separate content between these two systems, you may want to ask further questions around the “shared” content, as SharePoint Online can mean and do a number of different things.

What’s an Office 365 Group? What’s a SharePoint Online Site or Site Collection? How are either different from Teams?

And so—without further ado–here is a quick guide to shared content architecture and organizational structures in Office 365!

SharePoint Sites

SharePoint Sites are probably the most versatile option, especially for collaborating on large amounts of files or directories. A SharePoint Team Site functions as a hub where many team members can access content, organize content, or collaborate on content. Communication within SharePoint Team Sites is done with commenting on documents in real time, alongside all other team members.

The major benefit to team sites is that they are owned by IT or the head of a department or working group. That means that permissions can be set by IT or departmental heads and that IT has granular control over sharing for specific sites, configurations for specific sites, as well as the ability to set specific permissions for certain sites, directories, or content.

The equivalent of a site or site collection on an on-premises file server would be a departmental share. That does not mean that an entire “HR” directory should be placed into a single site. Whether a departmental share gets its own site or gets split up into many subsites depends on the amount of complex permissions, total amount of content, the group organization within the share, and requirements for external sharing. For example, one group within an HR department, such as the recruiters, may require that they share extensively with people outside of the company. In this case, it might be best to give that team their own site with more relaxed external sharing, but still under the control of IT and the HR department as a whole.

Group Sites

In Office 365, Group Sites compliment a traditional email/Outlook group. Secure but slightly limited in functionality, Group Sites allow for solid and safe file collaboration among groups, the membership and permissions for which can be easily adjusted and managed on a case-by-case basis.

Group Sites by default are created whenever an Office 365 group is created, so it is important to establish policies for who is able to create Office 365 groups. Group Sites typically should not house very confidential or sensitive material, as IT and security teams have slightly less insight and control over the content in them.

Where Group Sites does succeed, is in the ability of team members within a group or department to gradually regulate access to a file or document that they might eventually need to distribute to other departments or teams. These groups are fluid and flexible, whereas Outlook groups are often more permanent and carry with them certain permissions. In contrast Group Sites and access to them can evolve to the necessities of the files contained therein.

Team Sites

Team Sites offer users and organizations a way to quickly and efficiently communicate and collaborate, much the same way as they might use an application such as Slack. Providing team members with a way to easily share files, folders, and other essential items on which they’re looking to collaborate, Team Sites serve as a simple and effective method for communication when it comes to working on specific projects involving multiple people.

As a chat-based workspace, Microsoft’s Team Sites ensure that team members never need worry about missing out on a crucial conversation. Chats can be private or built around groups ensuring that each individual user has the opportunity to thread conversations in such a way that guarantees no team member misses out on an important update, and no sensitive information is shared with those who aren’t supposed to access it.

Animation of Sharepoint interface for team management

Each team is provisioned alongside its own SharePoint Site. The content which best belongs here must be extremely relevant to the project or team that the team site is for. In addition, much of the content is new and updated frequently, so filtering on metadata such as last modified date when moving content to team sites is a good approach. Sometimes, it may be best to have end-users migrate content of their choosing to Team Sites.

Teams, Groups, and Site Collections Move Content Down a Funnel

The benefits of each of these tools are not only their unique strengths and functionalities, but how they work in concert to help an organization support their collaborative capabilities. Like anything dynamic, files, data, documents, and projects go through a metaphorical life cycle, and the relationship between Teams, Group Sites, and SharePoint Sites work to ensure that cycle’s success. Take, for instance, a marketing team tasked with creating an internal communications document (that said, this example works for most any department in an organization).

At first, they’ll want to brainstorm what they want to say, how they want to frame the document, how it should be laid out on a fundamental structural level. They can do this via Teams: a secure and instant chat mechanism.

Once the document is drafted, Group Sites allows the creators to start a formal approval process and manage who can see the document, and send it securely, ensuring that permissions are reinforced, and recipients manage the file or document appropriately. These recipients can then edit the document and share those edits among marketing team members and managers quickly and securely.

Once all this is done, the document can be securely stored for long term reference and sharing in a SharePoint Site. It’s versatile and secure, and allows a department an enclosed, specific space to share their work with a greater audience.

Data is dynamic and ever-evolving; files and projects are dynamic and ever-evolving. These items go through multiple stages and having multiple sites and tools that are molded to those stages makes sense. It benefits users individually; it benefits the teams of which they are a part; it benefits the organizations of which they are a part. These different functionalities serve different needs, and Office 365 understands how those needs work together. That’s why Office 365 is one of the most flexible and powerful cloud collaboration platforms available.

Migration to Microsoft’s Office 365 can drastically improve the way your users interact with their content. When making the transition to Office 365 by moving large amounts of shared content into the platform, each tier of SharePoint functionality needs to be considered in the migration strategy and plan.

When it comes to migration and cloud collaboration, the old adage is true: knowledge is power. And empowered with a firm grasp of the multiple levels of functionality in Office 365, your organization can use the platform to evolve every single facet of how you collaborate.