Microsoft Teams

10 Microsoft Teams Channels Best Practices

Discover key Microsoft Teams chat settings and tips for efficient cross-platform collaboration.
Dominic Kent
Dominic Kent is a content marketer specializing in unified communications and contact centers.
A screenshot of Microsoft Teams interface.

When you set up a new channel in Microsoft Teams, what do you communicate to members?

What the channel is for? Guidelines for this specific channel? Often, we create new channels in Microsoft Teams and hit the ground running. We share a document, we message colleagues, and everyday life continues.

Fast forward to the end of the week, and everything is a mess. Nobody can remember what that channel is for, you’ve got message threads all over the place, and does anybody know where we saved that doc?

In this case, we either struggle through cursing that nobody is using the channel the way we’d like, or we just create a new team entirely.

What we should have done at the very beginning is explain the purpose of the channel and how we’d like it to be used. For new users, this is crucial for adoption. If it becomes a mess, people will stop using the channel or even Teams altogether.

In this post, we list 10 best practices when using Microsoft Teams channels.

What is the difference between a channel and a team in Microsoft Teams?

The team and channel hierarchy is simple.

  • A team houses up to 200 channels. 
  • A channel houses day-to-day activities like conversations, files, threads, etc.

To create a channel, you must first have created a team. Channels can’t exist without associated teams.

A pyramid demonstrating that a team needs to exist for channels to exist, and those two need to exist for conversations and files and such can be shared.

Here are the key differences between channels and teams in Microsoft Teams:

Teams in Microsoft TeamsChannels in Microsoft Teams
Houses up to 200 channels.Standalone group areas within a team.
Every team has a General channel by default.Each channel serves a different purpose.
Admin controls include Manage team, Add channel, Add member, Leave the team, Edit team, Get link to team, Manage tags, Delete the team.Admin controls include Channel notifications, Pin, Hide, Manage Channel, Get email address, Get link to channel, Edit this channel, Connectors, Delete this channel.
Contains channels only.Contains tabs for Posts, Wiki, Files, and any integrations you wish to add.
If deleted, underlying channels get deleted too.If deleted, conversations and files stored in the channel get removed. Will remain on SharePoint until deleted or your retention policy allows for automatic deletion.
Contains channels only.Carry out day-to-day tasks like chat, document collaboration, building workflows.

Here are your options for administering a team.

List of options for administering a team.

Here are your options for administering a channel.

List of options for administering a channel.

In the example below, you can see that there is a team named File Sharing Demo.

Included within this team are channels for specific products that the sales team is tasked with supporting: Google to Teams and Google-Teams.

While the team (sales) has a common interest, different channels have been created so different projects are organized together.

Without channels, everything would be in the General channel. This would make tracking conversations and collaboration untidy and hard to follow.

What do channels do in Microsoft Teams?

Each channel in Microsoft Teams may have its own purpose but should be related to the team it is created in.

For example, a finance team accessible to everyone in the finance department. But each channel will have a specific function like budgeting, invoicing, accounts payable, etc.

Inside those channels, members of the channels will collaborate on projects and conversations relating to that specific element of finance.

Functionality included in channels rather than teams includes:

  • Conversations
  • GIFs, emojis, reactions
  • Message threads
  • File sharing
  • Document collaboration
  • Document storage (front-end)
  • Wiki creation
  • Tab connections

Channels are different from group chats too: Microsoft Teams Group Chats vs Channels

When should you create a channel in a team?

You can create up to 200 channels over the life of a team. But that doesn’t mean every team needs that many.

If you have a team that is rarely used and doesn’t have any spin-off projects, you may be okay using the General channel only. For informal topics or if you’re setting up teams to be for announcements (one-way comms) then it’s unlikely you need filtering for separate topics.

If you create a team for a large department, or a small department with lots of ongoing or one-off projects, it’s best practice to create a channel for these. Without channels in this case, all the conversations would be in your feed constantly jumping around your screen.

Create a channel in a team when you have a new project, department, or core conversation topic.

It might be in the sales team where you create:

  • Partner-sales
  • Direct-sales
  • Affiliate sales
  • Referrals
  • Comission-queries
  • Sales-documentation

It could be the HR team where you create:

  • Payroll
  • Complaints
  • Pay-reviews
  • Training
  • Budget

Don’t forget, you’ll have a General channel by default. Use this for general conversations that don’t belong to a specific channel.

How do you use Microsoft Teams channels effectively?

Appropriate use of Microsoft Teams channels can increase productivity. The opposite is also true. When you don’t use Teams correctly (or the same way as everyone else in your business), collaboration becomes hard and adoption dwindles.

When someone posts in the wrong channel all the time or creates teams that look out of place, productivity suffers and people start to use other apps in their workplace silos.

Read on for Microsoft Teams channel best practices you should communicate to your teams from day one.

Best practices for Microsoft Teams channels

1 - Use standardized naming conventions

There is no right or wrong way to name a channel (or a team) in Microsoft Teams. But do make sure you stick to the conventions adopted throughout the rest of your company. Otherwise, channels look out of place and people may avoid them.

According to LEAN Six Sigma principles (5S), keeping everything in order leads to higher productivity and ongoing value creation.

  • Sort
  • Straighten
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain

While it may seem novel to apply to a collaboration app, think about the “tidy desk, tidy mind” mantra. When everything is tidy and accessible, productivity rates skyrocket.

Keeping both team and channel names short is advisable too. For mobile users, space on screen is a premium. There’s no need to make a channel name long by including words like “discussions” or “chats”. This is obvious because it’s happening in Microsoft Teams.

Examples of standardized naming conventions for channels include:


  • Laptop-refresh
  • Mobile-rollout
  • Support-tickets
  • Training-courses

But it might also look like this:


  • BlogsInProgress
  • eBooks
  • DesignInspiration
  • GraphicsInProgress

Some organizations replicate their SharePoint or standard document naming conventions. Keep things simple so you don’t confuse people.

But do beware that the name you give a channel on the front end (Teams) will be replicated on the back end too (SharePoint, OneDrive).

2 - Set a definitive channel description

Often missed by lots of people, the channel description box in Microsoft Teams is stored under the icon in the top right-hand corner of a channel.

Here, you have the option to include a channel description.

For people looking for the right channel to join, providing a description makes it clear if they should be in the channel or if what they need to discuss belongs here.

Microsoft Teams channel descriptions examples

The example above is the support channel for demonstrating file share for Google Chat and Teams. To make it clear to other members of the business, we’ve added a channel description.

You could make your channel descriptions even clearer. And you could point people in the right direction for commonly confused channels.

3 - Pin a post with guidelines for the channel

Pinning posts in Teams allows for important conversations to be displayed in their own section.

To encourage Microsoft Teams channel best practices throughout your business, consider pinning guidelines for channel usage.

To pin a post, click the next to the post you wish to pin and click Pin.

Pinning a post with guidelines for the channel

Your post will now be displayed in the pinned posts section.

Pinned post

Note: In one-to-one chats, pinned messages are displayed at the top of your chat instead of having a pinned section.

4 - Make relevant channels private

Not every channel needs to be accessible to everyone. Consider it a best practice to make channels with sensitive information private. 

It could be a channel in the HR team where payroll or complaints are managed. It might be a channel where an upcoming merger or acquisition is being discussed. Until the deal is complete, public knowledge of the process needs to be kept under lock and key.

To create a private channel in a team, choose Private from the drop-down menu in the creation flow.

5 - Allow access to external contributors

If you use Microsoft Teams with external users, they need access to the channels you work in. 

It’s one thing chatting with them (you can allow federation for direct messages) but for true collaboration, everyone needs to see what’s happening in teams and channels.

Below, you can see external access is provided to a guest of the Modality tenant.

To grant access to external collaborators, your organization must allow either guest access to the tenant or (when available) use Microsoft’s shared channels option, Teams Connect.

6 - Enable cross-platform chat with Google Chat

Some people you need to collaborate with may not be users of Microsoft Teams. Historically, this meant you had to email them or only collaborate when you joined a call together.

Using Mio’s message interoperability tool, you can install an app that enables you to send cross-platform messages to Google Chat users.

Once you’ve synced the channels you wish to share access to, you can send messages as you would any ordinary Teams user.

Once you’ve used Mio to sync your channels, you can send channel messages. The following features are supported cross-platform:

  • Cross-platform messages
  • Edits and deletions
  • GIFs
  • File uploads
  • Emojis and reactjis
  • Security and admin features for enterprise customers
  • Message threads

7 - Pin important channels

When some channels are more important than others, you need to be able to find them quickly.

By pinning a channel, you push it to the top of your teams menu. In the example below, you can see the “Partner Marketing" channels has been pinned.

Pinned channel

Instead of expanding teams and searching manually for important channels, they are stored at the top of your teams menu.

To pin a channel, click the next to the channel name and select Pin.

How to pin a channel

8 - Hide or archive unused channels and teams

The final Microsoft Teams channels best practice is the one everybody forgets. 

What happens when a channel no longer serves a purpose? 

You should archive it or delete it. But, in reality, lots of unused channels get left to rot. By rot, we mean they stay in Teams but clutter the place.

For temporary projects or when people leave and their teams are no longer used, opt to archive the team. While you can’t archive a channel, you can archive a team.

Standard users can’t archive or delete teams so your Teams administrator will need to do this.

What happens when you archive a channel in Microsoft Teams?

When you archive a channel in Teams, all activity (conversations, file uploads, etc.) will stop. The team will remain on your SharePoint and OneDrive sites but no longer appear on the Teams app.

When you’re ready to delete the team (having saved or moved any important data or documentation), you can remove the entire team (and associated back end) by deleting it.

This activity is final and you can't reverse it so consult your Teams admin to make this change for you.

If you’re not sure whether you’ll need a channel in the future, you can hide it so at least it’s out of your way. While you can’t hide specific channels in Teams, you do have the option to hide a team.

To hide a team, click the next to the channel name and choose Hide.

How to hide a team

We’ve intentionally ended our Microsoft Teams channels best practices with the end of the team.

But that doesn’t mean you should stop here.

Read over the best practices highlighted in this post to make sure you’re in the best position possible.

Don’t forget the most important part of making any changes in Teams: communication!

Share this post with your colleagues or pin it to your channels so it's easily accessible.

Read next: How to Connect Google Chat and Microsoft Teams in 2024

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