Building a good SharePoint team site

Recently I was lucky enough to work with a small group of business users who were experiencing SharePoint as ‘more than a document library‘ for the first time. Over a period of about a month we ended up growing our SharePoint 2010 Team Site in to one of the better examples that I’ve seen since working with the product from the SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and SharePoint 2007 days. Thinking back on this I was wondering if there was a way of packaging up the approach and techniques that had been successful so that they could be used again and again. Here are my conclusions, followed by some practical advice on things I like to see on a team site.

Team Sites
First, to define a ‘Team Site’. Well, SharePoint gives us a team site template to build new sites from which includes things like a document library and discussion board but what does this translate to in the real world? My view is that a team site is a collection of assets and activities that are united around a common purpose. This can cover a host of scenarios where I think a team site could be needed, e.g.:

  • A small departmental unit who perhaps work and collaborate around the practices and processes they own within an organisation
  • A working group consisting of members from various organisational units and office locations forming a virtual team with a particular deliverable or purpose
  • A classic project team delivering a particular project’s goals and aims
  • And no doubt many more

So, on to the areas which I think contributed to a successful team site. I’ve tried to sum these up into the three areas I felt were the most important but obviously this is not intended to be definitive, or that they could apply in every case. In fact, as you’ll see, one of my conclusions has to be that this cannot be prescriptive! The three areas:

1) Purpose
For a truly successful team site there needs to exist a reason for being. This is going to be different for every team in every scenario, but common themes could be along the lines of “this is where we keep the project documentation” or “the place to raise issues or get questions answered“.

I actually see this as the most important area when building a team site. Without this users will simply not return after the first couple of visits – resulting in a site that falls quickly into disuse and little value. Getting the users in, and staying in, has to be one of the key goals.

2) Discovery
I think in the past people have tried to come up with the one-size-fits-all team site template; to second guess the users needs and present a team site that will automatically meet those needs. The more and more I work with SharePoint the more I realise that this is a pipe dream. All the tools and features exist within SharePoint to meet the majority of a ‘regular’ team’s requirements, but to assume that each team will want a similar configuration of their team site is going to result in whole sections of a team site that fall into disuse, e.g. not everyone wants to use discussion boards.

Instead, I’ve found it a much better option to educate the users and help them to become aware of all the different features and then allow them to discover the features that work for them. Admittedly at first you may end up with the SharePoint equivalent of a kid in a pick ‘n’ mix sweetshop filling their bag with every available sweet (and only really liking the Haribo), but this should settle down over time with some gentle guidance and continued reflection on the success of the site. By allowing the users the freedom to build their own site in this way, not only are you helping ensure that their needs are met, but you’re also creating your own band of evangelists who will make sure the team site continues to be a success long after you are gone.

3) Flexibility
This is a key tenet for me to ensure success. Things will change. Users will swap in and out, and the world will keep spinning. Therefore it’s important not to put your team site up and say “right, this is how we’re going to work from now on“. Similar to the discovery piece above, let the users go down different routes and paths and see where they end up. Initially the worst thing that can happen is that the site will end up with some superfluous lists and libraries – but hey, so what? The important thing is that the site continues to evolve to meet the changing requirements and needs. It may be that the site starts out as a simple place to store project documents, but grows into the key collaboration tool to enable communication across a globally disperse team. If so, then be prepared to roll with the punches.

A Solid Base
Despite my statement earlier that it’s simply not possible to create a standard team site template and roll it out, I do think it’s necessary to have some ideas in your tool box that you can suggest and try out in order to help a set of users get going with their team site. Here are a few things that I think are good conversation starters for a new team site:

  • Public and private document libraries – depending on the organisation my preference is the opt out approach for visibility; hence visitors to a team site should be able to see everything, apart from those things specifically locked down
  • Recent documents on the home page – show the last 5 or 10 modified documents on the home page, including who by and when they were modified
  • Add a note board – in SP2010 add a note board web part to the team site home page and it can be used as a ‘wall’ for the team site
  • Meet the team web part – a simple introduction to the core members of a team site
  • Calendar – the difficulty here is to give this a specific purpose, so that there is no ambiguity when comparing it to individual’s personal calendar, e.g. use it for project milestones etc
  • Useful links – a simple SharePoint links list goes a long way to helping folks navigate
  • Team identity – possibly in the form of a written introduction or an image, but something that distinguishes this site at a glance from other sites. Coming up with this identity could also tie into your user adoption strategy

Conclusion
To conclude, my belief is that to build a successful team site there are a few behaviours that can be seen as the success criteria:

  • Users returning to the site regularly
  • Users contributing/ interacting with the site regularly (dependent upon size of team)
  • The team actively managing and adapting the site themselves

All of the above has been aimed at increasing these behaviours, and as such it’s about doing whatever is appropriate for the team in question. When working on a smaller scale with a specific team it’s possible to apply the above ideas and continuously ‘hand-hold’ the users to help answer their questions and listen to their ideas. A real challenge comes when looking to role out the above in an enterprise where there may be hundreds or thousands of team sites required. That’s a much harder area to look into and involves some serious attention being given to user adoption and end-user training. My thoughts on that for another post perhaps…

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11 comments to Building a good SharePoint team site

  • Ed

    True, only gummi bears for me! I would have to agree with your conclusions. I see many sites here appear and then quickly disappear. The ones that stay and are successful are the ones that have a strong focus, but which also have the flexibility to adapt over time and have ownership devolved to the users.

  • Daniel Westerdale

    Hi

    An excellent post. I have meeting with a NHS informatics team today to go through some of the points you have raised. What I am hoping to achieve is toolbox/gallery of web parts and features that each of our departmental teams can use to help build their individual teams sites.

    As an aside, I really like the wordpress theme you’ve used. I am trying to replicate something similar under Joomla/K2 for a relaunch of my SharePoint oriented site/blog.

    Daniel

    • Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for the comment – I’m glad it’s given you some good discussion points. Re the theme – I’m using the Atahualpa theme which is great for a configurable but simple look and feel like this one.

  • Kevin Edwards

    Hi Glyn

    I thought your recent documents view on the homepage was a great idea. I also thought there was an OOTB web part for it but I guess I was wrong. Would you mind sharing the code for this one?

    • Hi Kevin – you’re right in that there is an OOB web part that you can use for this. You simply need to add on the corresponding web part for the library that you want to display; and then modify the view that is displayed. Something like, sort by Date Modified (descending) and limit to 5 items is a good start.

      Thanks,

  • Kevin Edwards

    OK maybe I was mis-interpreting you. What I thought you meant there was a roll-up of recent documents from all the doc libraries on the team site?

    • Ahhh ok – my mistake sorry. If you are looking for a roll-up of all documents in the site then I’d suggest using the Content Query Web Part (if it’s avaiable to you). You may not be able to get such a nice presentation without writing custom XSL, but that should allow you to show documents from all libraries on a particular site.

  • Kevin Edwards

    Hi Glynn

    Thanks for your article. I’ve demoed the teamsite template and it seems to have hit the spot – basicaly I left the landing page focusssed on team identity – i.e. what does that group do and status updates for the team members – i.e. what’s new for me. They started talking about new features we could add. Which since they had some hands-on is a sign the site was reasonably intuitive – early days but so far so good.

    One last question. I’d like to keep the right hand column a bit lighter and more social so I’ve got hello and QOTD parts in there. You mentioned that you used a meet the team webpart. I’m constrained to OOTB customisation at the moment. I’d found a blog entry on customising search to provide employee profiles but I unfortunately can’t find the link again. Is there anything on codeplex or by way of some XSL config on the search webparts that you’re aware of. Thanks.

    • Hi Kevin,

      That’s great news – it sounds like you’re right on track. Re the Meet the Team Web Part; I thought I’d previously posted on this but can’t seem to find it – so I guess not! Basically it can be achieved by adding a people search results web part to a page and editing the properties so that it has a fixed query (e.g. department = IT). If wanted you can then edit the XSL to customise the presentation a bit.

      If I get chance over the next couple of weeks then I’ll see if I can knock up a demo and post it up.

      Cheers,

  • Jai

    Excellent post, Glyn. Just wondering if you will have any pointers to customizing the branding/theme to a TeamSite. I get a lot of resources for customizing a Publishing site, but it is quite difficult to get some solid stuff for TeamSite. I want to basically customize it completely and do away with the normal/default UI that comes with the Sharepoint TeamSite. Any idea?

  • Can you get the meet the team webpart to reflect who reports to who, i.e. hierarchically? I’ve a new boss turned up and he’s in the middle of the team view

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