Microsoft Teams:  Channels, chat and conversations.

Published by Caroline Carlin on

Author:  Caroline Carlin – TELT

Last time we focused on notifications, this week it’s all about how we organise and communicate with Teams.


Teams creates a central hub, pulling a wide variety of content together in one place – whether files, conversations, applications or websites. Before you get all this content into your team though, you need to be able to put it into some kind of order, and that’s exactly what channels do.  Channels are the essential bedrock of your team.  They enable you to manage and organise your Teams space, for example by topic, module or sub team.

When you create a Team, you’ll always start with the General channel, containing tabs for Posts (conversations) and Files.  Depending on the type of Team you’ve created you might also see other tabs such as Class Notebook or Assignments.  You can create further channels by clicking on the ellipsis … next to the team name and choosing Add Channel – your new channels will also have tabs Posts and Files by default.  You can add further tabs by clicking the +next to the last tab and choosing the relevant app (for example Forms, Stream, embedded Website).

Should I go for a public or private channel?

After a long wait, private channels arrived in Teams towards the end of last year.  They provide a way to have private spaces within a Team which only specific members of the team can access.  Often, you might already have a Team which almost fits your needs, but not quite.  Maybe you have a project Team set up, which includes external people who shouldn’t see the internal budgetary information.  Or you have a Class Team set up with students, but you’d like a place for just staff to share files/have conversations.  So, you create another Team with slightly different membership than the original.  Private channels could be a way to alleviate that, giving you less Teams to keep track of and everything in one place.

What happens when you create a private channel?

When you create a channel, you can choose whether it’s public or private. You can then choose who can access that channel from the existing members of the Team.  Only those who have access to the channel will see it, and it will have a lock symbol next to the name.  The person who created the private channel owns it, and only they can add or remove people from the channel.  As a Team owner, you can prevent members from creating private channels in Manage TeamSettingsMember Permissions.

When a new member is added to an existing private channel, they will see the full conversation history.

By default, the private channel inherits the settings of the team, but you can change some permissions by going to Manage ChannelSettings.

You can create up to 30 private channels in a team (in addition to the 200 standard channels limit).  Once created, a private channel can’t be changed to public, or vice versa.

Are there limitations to private channels?


At the time of writing, there are a few things you can’t do in a private channel:

  • Add tabs for Stream, Forms or Planner
  • Schedule a meeting. This in turn also means you can’t choose who can present in a meeting (e.g. limit to just you).
  • Take shared notes in a meeting (meeting notes creates a new notebook tab in a channel)
  • Record meetings.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use private channels.  They definitely have a place in helping to organise membership of Teams. But think about whether your channel needs to be private.  Teams is all about collaboration and transparency, so ask a few quick questions before you create a private channel; Is it really important that all team members don’t see the information in the channel?  What features do members need to be able to use in the channel?

Channel Top tips:

  • Keep track of what’s important to you by following a channel and customise your notifications.
  • Every channel has it’s own email address. Hover over the ellipsis next to the channel name and choose Get email address.  You can then forward any emails and attachments to the channel (this will appear on Posts, attachments will also be in Files)
  • If you want to alert someone to activity in a channel, click the ellipsis next to the channel name and choose Get link to channel. (They’ll need to be a member of the team to access the channel).
  • Channels will be in alphabetical order by default – hopefully this will change in future, but in the meantime use numbering to choose your own order.

Conversations and Chat

Imagine this scenario.  You’ve sent an email to five people asking their opinion about a really crucial aspect of a project.  One person replies to just you so nobody else knows what they’ve said; three people reply to all….then reply to all again; one person doesn’t reply at all, so who knows if they’ve even read the email or not.  In the end, you’ve got lots of emails cluttering your inbox but you’re still not entirely sure what everyone thinks.  Using posts (conversations) and chat in Teams can really help with streamlined, transparent communication.

Chat is a little more informal and skype-like.  You can add some tabs/apps but not as many as you can in a channel.  Having said that, it’s a great collaboration place for a small group where you don’t really need the full functionality of a team.  Conversations in channels are more structured with conversation threads.  Don’t forget – everyone in a public channel can read all conversations!

General tips

  • If chat or conversation isn’t speedy enough, and typing is just getting in the way, talk ‘face to face’ – either Meet now or Schedule a meeting when everyone’s free.
  • As you get involved in more chats and conversations, managing your notifications is crucial.
  • Click the format icon (the first icon underneath where you type, looks like A with a pencil) to open up your formatting options such as insert link, Bold, bullets etc. Also the added bonus of being able to press enter for a paragraph break rather than posting your incomplete message.
  • @mentions will get people’s attention, whether an entire team, channel or an individual person. Press backspace to remove any unwanted parts after the first name.
  • You can save any useful message you want to revisit by clicking the ellipsis next to the post and choosing Save this message. To find them again, click on your profile picture and then Saved.
  • Mark items as unread (click the ellipsis next to the post/chat) to return them to bold.

Posts (conversations) top tips

  • We’ve all done it – clicked in ‘Start a new conversation’ when what we actually want to do is reply to an existing conversation thread. Rule no. 1: Don’t forget to hit Reply.
  • Clicking the Format icon in conversations will give you further options such as:
    • Adding a subject – easier to keep track of and spot threads
    • Changing the post to an Announcement – draw people’s attention. You can change the announcement background colour and image.
    • Post in multiple channels – one message quickly posted to any channel, in any team you’re a member of.
  • You can add some apps to your post such as quick polls or Stream – click the ellipsis underneath ‘Start a new conversation’ to explore the options.
  • You can control who posts to a channel by switching on moderation. Click the ellipsis next to the channel name and choose Manage Channel.

Chat top tips

  • Chat isn’t just for chat. It’s a great place to collaborate on files, OneNote notebooks and to share other apps using your tabs at the top of your chat window.
  • Create a group chat when you don’t need all that a team offers. You can name a group chat so it’s easy to keep track of:
    1. Create a new chat
    2. Click the down arrow to the right hand side of the ‘To’ field and enter a name (you can rename at any time by clicking the pencil icon to the right of the group name).
  • If you add another person to a ‘one to one’ chat, a new group chat will be created (with no chat history). If you add someone to an existing group chat, you can specify whether or not they see the chat history.
  • If you have an active chat that you frequently use, pin it to the top of your chat list by clicking the ellipsis next to the chat name and choosing Pin.
  • If you can’t see a chat in your recent list, just type the person’s name into the Search box and the chat (with chat history) will appear.
  • If you can see that someone is away or not logged in you can choose Notify when available by clicking the ellipsis next to their name in your chat list.
  • You can mark a message as urgent/important using the ! Use it wisely though, it will notify a person or group every two minutes for 20 minutes, or until they finally read it.
  • Files added to a chat are held in your OneDrive – check the Sent by column to find out whose OneDrive it’s stored in. Within your OneDrive, it will be in the Microsoft Chats folder. This is where you will need to remove access to anyone who was a part of the chat.

Whats new in Teams?

Keep up to date with new features in Teams by typing /whatsnew into the search bar at the top of the Teams window.


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