Facilitation with Microsoft Teams

A few months ago, I was asked to design and facilitate a short training using Microsoft Teams. The aim was to introduce volunteer facilitators of a large not-for-profit organisation to Microsoft Teams (Teams) and online facilitation. With COVID-19, all face-to-face courses had to move online and although the facilitators had loads of experience with the content and facilitating, hardly any of them had facilitated a course online.

I went on a bit of a journey with Teams as well. I was used to facilitating on Zoom, so getting used to Teams was a bit of a challenge. Why? Because some functionalities that I was using frequently in Zoom, are (or were) absent or different in Teams. When I asked fellow facilitators about their experiences with delivering training on Teams, I still hear them sigh… Let me share a few of my experiences with you.

The whiteboard

Both Zoom and Teams offer a whiteboard. The whiteboard in Zoom is OK to use. It has stamps, shapes, you can change colours and the font size, and so on. That is enough for a range of activities that require a whiteboard. In Teams, the options on the whiteboard are very limited. You can only write, draw with limited coloured pens or add a sticky note. Both whiteboards do not allow to paste anything on them. For Zoom, that is not a problem due to their annotation function (see below), but I do not see a workaround in Teams.

Private conversations in the chat panel

In online courses, I sometimes use the chat panel for activities that include one-on-one conversations. In Zoom you have a dropdown, and the participant can choose the person they are going to chat with. I found out that this does not work in Teams. A private chat is not possible. The participants need to open their Teams Chat tab, outside of the meeting, to start that conversation. For an inexperienced or not so tech-savvy audience, that is not an option.

Annotating slides

For courses on Zoom, I often use the annotation tool to let participants write on a slide, or add a stamp. I use it for summary activities, brainstorming and dot voting, and it is an easy way to engage the participants and check their understanding or opinion. When you make a designated slide in your presentation for this annotation activity, you don’t need to change screens or open another app, like a whiteboard. Unfortunately, Teams does not let the participants annotate the slides. PowerPoint has the standard option to highlight, use a pen or laser pointer on a slide while presenting, but not for participants.

Breakout rooms

Who does not use breakout rooms? They are great for small group work, including discussions, problem-solving, work on scenarios etc. In Zoom you can set up breakout rooms manually or automatically with a few clicks. You can easily hop from one room to another, broadcast messages and close all the rooms with one click. In Teams there was a workaround, but I didn’t recommend to use it to anyone who wasn’t comfortable with Teams. After promising breakout rooms for months on end, Teams finally implemented proper breakout rooms mid-December (2020) … just after I finished with the last group for this year. It is quite similar to Zoom, so you can create rooms manually and automatically and assign participants. You can find the breakout rooms button in the meeting controls of Teams.

Polling

Who does not like a quick poll? In Zoom, you can easily set up a poll before the meeting and include it in your session. In Teams, you need to use another app (and pay for it), like Microsoft Forms, Polly etc. Sure, it works but is not as intuitive. A quick workaround is to add a poll question to your presentation and ask the participants to write their answer in the chat, use the ‘raise hands’ function or ‘camera on or off’.

Logging in

Several participants had more than one Teams account. One from work, one from the not-for-profit organisation and sometimes a private one as well. This causes all kinds of issues when logging in to the course. How you log in will determine the functionalities that are available to you. Logging in as a guest, for example, did not give the participants all the meeting controls. Others, who logged in from a different organisation, did not have access to the chat. This is probably a settings issue that’s not easy to change in a large organisation (read: security), but as they all see different screens and menus, it also makes it harder for the facilitator to troubleshoot.

Not all bad

It is not all bad news. Teams is catching up with other videoconferencing platforms and adding more and more features. Being able to see more than 6 participants, for example, was a big improvement already. We’ve got the breakout rooms now (yay!) and if they can also add annotating slides for everyone, that would fill another gap. In the meantime, Zoom and other platforms do not sit still, so I look forward to seeing more improvements to make online training an even better experience.
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