upside down on a roller coaster
PHOTO: Charlotte Coneybeer

As Microsoft releases more and more new capabilities to Office 365, it’s been an extraordinary time for enterprise social collaboration. Microsoft Teams has pumped new energy into day-to-day working practices of staff, and even Yammer is getting a new injection of functionality.

Yet with this increase in functionality comes complexity, which can potentially overwhelm the business, IT and users. Which is why I was excited to see Microsoft's inner loop, outer loop model last fall. The model endeavors to answer the perennial “what to use when” question, as well as highlight that Office 365 is a suite of products, each of which is intended to play its part. (Hint: it’s not all about Teams.)

What I've also found in my work with clients is the model helps to resolve some key questions about ownership and governance. But first, let’s recap the two loops.

Small Groups: The Inner Loop

The inner loop is about intensive activity within small groups, most often teams or projects. It’s about getting day-to-day work done, as well as providing the social glue that binds these small groups together.

Interactions exploit the full spectrum of Office 365 functionality, such as real-time messaging, document co-creation, team planning and information sharing.

As it stands in Microsoft’s world today, the inner loop is best served by Teams and Skype for Business, and the related productivity tools.

Related Article: Is Microsoft Teams the 'Portal' We've Been Looking For?

Sharing Widely: The Outer Loop

In contrast, the outer loop is about sharing information widely across the organization, often cutting across business silos. This is about connecting the business, surfacing ideas, and finding new answers to problems.

This can be seen through an internal communications lens, where the outer loop is used by senior leaders to foster two-way interaction. Knowledge management is often the other lens, which focuses on ideation, problem-solving and knowledge capture.

In the outer loop, interactions are much less intensive, and group membership is more fluid. There will also be multiple levels of participation, from a core group of heavy posters through to a large group of "lurkers."

In the world of Office 365, the outer group is best served by Yammer. (Hint: you can’t have a ‘team’ of 5,000 people.)

Related Article: Don't Know Which Microsoft Collaboration Tool to Use? You're Not Alone

Resolving the Office 365 'Ownership' Puzzle

One of the key challenges organizations face when rolling out Office 365 is: who owns it? And further more: how is it managed and governed?

There’s no question that IT owns the platform, but like every other technology solution, it should have a business owner as well. Finding that owner is hard, because to put up your hand means you get lumped with the full capabilities of Office 365 to manage. IT also feels — as it turns out rightly — that they should keep ownership of some parts of the platform.

This is where the inner loop, outer loop model can again put shape around things.

It’s a simple approach that can be described in a single sentence: IT is the overall platform owner as well as the business owner of the inner loop, and internal communications is the business owner of the outer loop.

This frees up IT to focus fully on adoption and training of Teams, Planner, OneDrive and the rest. Meanwhile, internal comms (or a related team) can foster two-way dialog and knowledge sharing.

Like every simple model, there’s still a lot of grey area between the black-and-white approach just outlined. It’s also critical that scenarios and behaviors shape the management and use of the platform, rather than a technology-centric "I own Teams, you own Yammer" approach. For example: in a 150 seat call center, is that an inner loop, or an outer loop scenario?

We’ll explore these real-world nuances in a future article. In the meantime, forge a consensus around high-level ownership, start to establish meaningful governance, and most of all, start using Office 365 with greater confidence!

Related Article: Who Owns the Digital Workplace? You're Asking the Wrong Question