Elevating People and Communities


This is an open-source article with the community providing support for it. For official Microsoft content, see Microsoft 365 documentation.

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The People and Communities article provides an overview of People and Communities concepts and then details each of the 5 People and Communities maturity levels from Initial to Optimizing (100 through to 500). It adopts a broadly technology-agnostic approach to the business characteristics of People and Communities, plus expected benefits.

This article aims to specifically explore how organizations at any level could use the Microsoft 365 suite (and associated technologies) to reach a higher maturity level.

How to move from Initial to Managed (level 100 to 200)

Organizations at level 100 have done little to actively support the concepts around people and communities, relying on organic and traditional approaches. Much of the important interaction between employees occurs with in-person meetings, chat, or hallway encounters and often with no clear outcomes.

There is little company guidance or recommendation on where to have different types of conversations to be most effective. No processes or tools exist to discover whether colleagues have specific skills, areas of expertise, or common interests and values. Most conversations use email as the only communication channel.

To advance to the 200 level, consider the following activities:

Communities (level 100 to 200)

Focus on known working groups, like project teams and departments, to begin transitioning to Microsoft 365 Groups or Dynamic Distribution Groups (when file management or additional collaboration outside of email is not needed). These working groups are considered the "inner loop" which is a known set of people working together. The members and output are clearly defined simplifying the choice of what-to-use when.

 A project team needs to communicate updates internally and collaborate on files. A Microsoft 365 Group will provide a shared calendar, email distribution list, SharePoint Team Site, and the potential to add a Microsoft Team for a robust meeting space with persistent chat. Project communication should shift to SharePoint news, the associated Microsoft 365 Group email distribution list, or Teams chats.

A department, depending on the size and company culture, may also benefit from a Microsoft 365 Group. Large departments where all members are not actively collaborating may be best served by a Dynamic Distribution Group as communication is primarily one way and the smaller functions within the department are then collaborating with Microsoft 365 Groups.

Begin to pilot open community spaces like Yammer or an org-wide Team. The "outer loop" is focused on sharing information widely across an organization outside the known working groups. There is not a known set of members as it can be fluid and communication is often focused on surfacing new ideas, gathering feedback, knowledge sharing, breaking down silos, and connecting the business with senior leaders. Focus on moving company-wide communication that seeks to foster two-way communication to Yammer or an org-wide Team (depending on company culture and size).

People (level 100 to 200)

Reach out to your SharePoint Champions, Microsoft 365 business owners, and internal customer service functions (think Information Technology, Human Resources, Finance) to begin completing their profiles in Delve with more detail in addition to any contact information that may be populated from Active Directory or a synced Human Resource Information System. Focus on adding project and skills information to support search becoming a go-to place to identify people across the organization who provide internal customer service support (like answering benefits questions or providing support with a specific software), source knowledge and expertise.

How to move from Managed to Defined (level 200 to 300)

At the 200 level, the focus tends to be on creating communication channels for the inner loop. This represents groups of people working together on projects - the organizations usual units of work. Each team may decide how to communicate internally, but there is no enterprise-level guidance on which solution to use based on the project goal. There may be pilots for capturing outer loop conversations (corporate communications, CEO town halls, employee interest groups) in another communication channel.

To advance to the 300 level, consider the following activities:

Communities (level 200 to 300)

After piloting Microsoft 365 Groups (with associated Yammer community or Microsoft Team) and Dynamic Distribution Groups, focus on creating guidelines and associated training for what-to-use-when across the organization. The guidelines should consider the company culture, company size, persistence of communication, intent of communication, and audience.

For example:

  • A running group previously sent emails to the company-wide distribution list managed by IT whenever they met for their weekly Thursday runs. The running group is open for anyone in the company to join and is not directly related to business objectives. This group should now transition to a Yammer community as they are communicating to an unknown and open audience, their communication is dynamic with a shorter lifespan, and there is no need to collaborate on files or other outputs. A company may decide all employee resource groups belong in Yammer.

  • A project team previously worked with IT to manage a distribution list for a set of colleagues responsible for revamping the procurement process. This project team has a known set of members who need to collaborate on files privately until the new program is ready to be launched to the organization. This group should now transition to a Microsoft 365 Group (potentially with a Microsoft Team) as their audience is limited, their collaboration on documents is critical, and this content may need additional retention given the impact to the organization's business processes. After the project is completed, the new business process materials are moved from this working space to the company intranet (likely a SharePoint Communication Site) to support the larger audience consuming the new information.

The most effective guidelines are simple and easy to consume supporting quick decision making across the organization. They may be in the form of a simple one-page chart:

Audience Persistence of Message Intent of Communication Collaboration Needs Solution
All company Static One-way communication informing the business None SharePoint Communication Site
All company Dynamic One-way communication informing the business None or comments only SharePoint News (potentially shared via email with a Dynamic Distribution Group)
All company, small Dynamic Two-way communication Chat Org-wide Team or Yammer
All company, large Dynamic Two-way communication Chat Yammer
Project Team Dynamic All members collaborating Files, calendar, email or chat Microsoft 365 Group (potentially with Microsoft Team)
Department, small Dynamic All members collaborating Files, calendar, email or chat Microsoft 365 Group (potentially with Microsoft Team)
Department, large Dynamic One-way communication informing the business None or comments only SharePoint News (potentially shared via email with a Dynamic Distribution Group)

People (level 200 to 300)

  • Review the feedback from the pilot group using Delve and create guidelines for the company on how to complete profiles and use search to locate expertise across the company. Include specifics in your guidelines on how each field will be used at your organization.

    • For example, if employees are completing the "projects" field, does this include only active projects? What should be included in "skills"? If you are a small start-up, it may be helpful for employees to identify all their skills even if it is not relevant to their current position. Your start-up, with no corporate communications department, may need video editing help and finding an internal resource is the only option due to a limited project budget. If you are a large organization, including skills not specific to employees' roles may cause confusion on who-does-what.

    • These guidelines should be created in partnership with company leadership to ensure alignment with company objectives and ensure their support implementing the new process across all departments. Include any additional enterprise solutions or business processes for identifying expertise. For example, if there is an IT ticketing solution in place, include in the guidelines that this search is not a replacement for submitting tickets for IT support.

  • Eliminate any alternate solutions previously used to surface expertise. Only solutions identified as the enterprise solution should include this information. Reducing shadow copies of data will ensure data is accurate, within any audit scopes, and reduce confusion for employees transitioning to the new business process.

  • Provide company-wide training on using search to identify expertise. If possible, sharing this update at an all hands or Town Hall meeting will ensure this shift is viewed as a change in business process across the organization.

How to move from Defined to Predictable to (level 300 to 400)

At the 300 level, commonality across teams starts to drive where communities are created and set up. Microsoft Teams or Yammer Communities are created based on the type of work people are doing rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Team communication channels are well defined and agreed upon as a standard business process.

People profiles have additional information populated for skills, expertise, and past projects which can maintained independently. People begin using search to identify subject matter experts in the organization instead of emailing multiple people across the organization because they can find better results with people profiles.

To advance to the 400 level, consider the following activities:

Communities (level 300 to 400)

The guidance for what-to-use-when was created in partnership with the business and training was launched to align the business on the new community spaces for collaboration. The focus can shift to creating opportunities for feedback, iterative improvements, and strategic planning as the Microsoft 365 platform continues to evolve.

  • Meet with your existing champions group or begin to form one in your organization for each of the community platforms (Teams, Yammer, and SharePoint). The champions are not necessarily only the top users of these platforms. Including end users who push your governance boundaries, ask lots of questions in training, open tickets for common issues, or who are in the project queue for IT support can all add value to this group by offering diverse perspectives. When forming the champions group, including a spectrum of viewpoints, roles, and technical abilities will ensure you do not come to a false consensus as a group for what works best for the entire organization.

  • Form a meeting and communication cadence with this group to share Microsoft announcements, project initiatives, and to serve as an open door for feedback. Staying closely aligned with the end users actively working in these systems will ensure you understand how people are working in Microsoft 365 and what they need to be productive. Your guidance will continue to evolve to meet their needs and as Microsoft makes shifts in their offerings.

  • Continue training and showcase the efforts of end users utilizing self-service opportunities. Share case studies of teams who created their own communities by following the training and guidance. Include specifics around their starting point, pain points that drove the change, and improvements while using new solutions to communicate.

    Highlighting the end results will support end users across the organization as they separately work through change management for each new community they are building. Sharing these stories also gives end users the opportunity to showcase their efforts innovating their teams' communications. Elevating these case studies to company-wide communication perpetuates the message across the organization that shifting to multiple communication solutions for different types of communities is an initiative that is critical to the company's success in collaborating more effectively.

People (level 300 to 400)

Now that end users have added their skills, expertise, and project data into their profiles, it is important to focus on keeping this data up-to-date.

  • Align with the platform stakeholders to set a company-wide expectation on how frequently end users need to review and update their information. When possible, automate these reminders or use a third-party solution that can send reminders based on the last edit date of these fields to ensure you are only requesting updates from end users who are not compliant.

  • Review the Microsoft 365 search logs to identify most searched for terms and abandoned search results. Understanding what people are looking for will help guide which terms should be used in the profiles.

How to move from Predictable to Optimizing (level 400 to 500)

Organizations at the 400 level have a strategic view of all communication channels including email, Yammer Communities, Teams (backed by Microsoft 365 Groups), distribution lists, and security groups increasing engagement in the respective communities. There is an increased focus on self-service for end users to apply solutions and technologies to their work so they can manage their own membership.

To advance to the 500 level, consider the following activities:

Communities (level 400 to 500)

  • Communities have been solidly formed for internal communication so the focus shifts to including external participants when it makes a process more effective. As understanding of the different communities and their permission structures have increased, end users are more comfortable allowing external collaborators into these spaces instead of maintaining a separate site focused on these interactions (with many manual processes to support the content moving internally and externally repeatedly).

People (level 400 to 500)

  • End users have become comfortable searching for skills, expertise, and projects in people profiles so training should be expanded to include guidance on how to use Delve and MyAnalytics to be more productive.

    For example:

    • When searching for a subject matter expert, explore the Delve profile of your colleague to see documents you both have access to. This can help you better understand where they sit in the organization, what they are actively working on, and areas you might already overlap.
    • On your own Delve profile, explore the "discover documents from people around you" section to get a better idea of the initiatives your colleagues are working on. You will only see documents you have permission to though you may spot some activities where you should be involved or that impact your current projects. This is a great way to proactively explore what is happening around you.
    • Use the "Favorites" board to create a place for all the helpful documents across Microsoft 365 that help you work more effectively.
    • Spend time each week in MyAnalytics to get data-driven insights to help you be more productive by seeing data on your work, network, and collaboration habits.
      • Increasing awareness of your focus can reduce lost time due to distractions.
      • Being aware of your wellbeing can reduce stress and anxiety as you create space to disconnect from work.
      • Keeping an eye on your network can ensure you are spending time with the colleagues who need your attention the most.
      • Reviewing your collaboration data supports keeping your meeting time focused on critical discussions and raises your awareness to which meetings are unproductive as you are often multi-tasking in them.


Improving your People and Communities maturity means rethinking your processes and decentralizing communication from one channel to multiple areas which best support the topics and tasks at hand. Embracing different levels of persistence and types of interaction with communication in these channels supports end users' ability to be more focused and deeply engaged in conversation, achieving better results. Empowering your end users to manage their own communities enables IT professionals to focus on a higher strategic level and reduce friction with end users.



Join the Maturity Model Practitioners: Every month we host sessions exploring the value and use of the Microsoft 365 Maturity Model and how you can successfully develop your organization using Microsoft 365. Each of these sessions focus on building a community of practitioners in a safe space to hone your pitch, test your thoughts, or decide how to promote your use of the Maturity Model. Sessions may also include a brief presentation about the Maturity Model including recent updates.

Principal author: Emily Mancini, MVP, UXMC

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