Comparing Public, Private, and Shared Channels in Microsoft Teams

In Microsoft Teams, the channels play a vital role in organising and facilitating collaboration between your team members. Before we begin, we know that talking about Microsoft Teams can get confusing with some of the overlapping lingo. So let’s break this down: 

  • Microsoft Teams, also referred to as Teams is  the platform. 
  • A team is created within Teams. It may be a department (e.g. Finance, Marketing), or a project team (e.g. ‘Office Renovation 2023’ project). 
  • Within these teams, we can create channels – and that’s what we’re diving into today! 

Think of channels as individual spaces within a team where users can communicate, share files, and work together on specific topics or projects. Each channel acts as a focused discussion area, helping to keep conversations relevant and easily accessible. It’s where the work gets done. 

There are three types of channels available within Microsoft Teams, and each serve as different ways to help teams connect.

A screenshot of the window for setting up a new channel in Teams, with the dropdown box open to show the three types of channels to choose from.

Public, private, and shared channels in Microsoft Teams 

Let’s explore the three channel types: public, private, and shared. 

Public channels 

Public, or standard channels, are open to all team members. Any team member can participate in and search a public channel. The default ‘General’ channel found in every team is a public, or standard, channel. 

When should I use a public channel? 

Public channels are ideal for collaboration on topics within a team that are relevant to everyone. As a general rule, most channels in a team will be public channels unless there is a specific business requirement.

Private channels 

A private channel is perfect for those occasions when you need to have a more confidential or exclusive discussion within a specific subset of your team. With private channels, only invited members will have access to view, share, and collaborate on the content within that channel; and channel conversations are protected from non-channel members even if they are members of the same team. This added layer of privacy is especially useful when dealing with sensitive information that requires limited visibility. 

When should I use a private channel? 

You should use a private channel when a subset of your team require a secure area to collaborate on sensitive data, or confidential discussions. Private channels are a great way to maintain a secure and focused space for specific conversations. It is important to note that a private channel cannot be converted to a public channel. It will always remain private. If there is a chance the channel content will be shared publicly after a period of time, consider creating a private team instead.  

Tips for keeping private channels secure 

Maintaining security in a private channel in Microsoft Teams is crucial to protect sensitive information and ensures that only authorised team members have access. Here are some essential steps and best practices to help you maintain security in a private channel: 

  • Limit Membership: When creating a private channel, carefully select the members who genuinely need access to the channel’s content. Keep the membership exclusive to those directly involved in the topic. Avoid adding unnecessary users to minimise the risk of information leakage.
  • Educate Channel Members: Educate your channel members about the importance of maintaining security within the private channel. Emphasise the significance of not sharing sensitive information outside the channel and encourage them to report any suspicious activities.
  • Use Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Policies: Implement DLP policies within Microsoft Teams to prevent the accidental or intentional sharing of sensitive information in private channels. DLP policies can help monitor and protect against data breaches. 
  • Regular Auditing: Periodically conduct audits to review the membership and content within the private channel. Remove members who no longer need access and ensure that the information being shared aligns with the channel’s purpose. 

Shared channels 

Shared channels take collaboration to a whole new level by allowing collaboration with between teams that work inside and externally to your organisation (when B2B direct connect is enabled by Team Administrators). This can be immensely beneficial when you have external partners, vendors, or clients involved in a joint project without them needing to switch organisations. Shared channels provide a seamless platform for cross-organisational collaboration. 

When should I use a shared channel?

Shared channels are perfect when you have a project that requires collaboration across two or more internal teams or with external stakeholders. Instead of setting up separate communication channels or resorting to endless email chains, shared channels enable smooth collaboration between your team and external participants, fostering a more cohesive and productive working relationship. 

Adding external users to a shared channel

Adding users to a shared Teams channel is a straightforward process that can be done by following these step-by-step instructions: 

  • Create the Shared Channel: Before you can add users, you need to have a shared channel set up in your Microsoft Teams. If you haven’t created one yet, navigate to the team where you want to add the shared channel. Click on the ellipsis (three dots) next to the team’s name, then select “Add channel”. Choose the “Shared” option and give your new channel a relevant name and description. 
  • Access Channel Settings: Once your shared channel is ready, navigate to the channel and click on the ellipsis (three dots) next to the channel’s name. From the dropdown menu, select “Manage channel”. 
  • Invite Users: In the channel settings window, you’ll find the “Add members” option. Click on it to start inviting individual users.  Enter the email addresses of the external users you wish to invite, one at a time, in the provided text box. You can add multiple email addresses separated by commas. 
  • Adjust Permissions (Optional): You want to make sure you can control the actions of users. By default, external users will be added with the “Member” role, allowing them to view, post, and collaborate within the shared channel. However, if you need to modify their permissions, click on the ellipsis (three dots) next to each user’s name and select “Edit roles”.
  • Collaborate with Users: Once they have been added to the shared channel, they can actively participate in discussions, share files, and collaborate with your team members. They’ll have access only to the shared channel, maintaining the security of the other channels in your team. 
  • Removing Users: If the need arises to remove users from the shared channel, revisit the channel settings and click on the ellipsis (three dots) next to their names. Select “Remove from channel” to revoke their access. This action will not remove them from the team itself if they were already members. 
screenshot of channel settings in Propelle's MS Teams

Channels vs Teams – a comparison 

Teams are for groups of people working towards a common goal. Channels are dedicated spaces for collaboration on individual topics relevant to the goal of the team. Explaining the difference to your workforce can help negate any confusion for users about terminology and where they should be communicating. 

Choosing the best Microsoft solutions 

There are so many products and platforms in the Microsoft and Office 365 suites, and making sure you’re getting the most value from them is really important. Our consultants can take you on a guided tour through Office 365 and any other Microsoft tools and platforms your workforce is using. Get in touch with us today! 

FAQs about the types of channels in Microsoft Teams

What are public channels, and how do they differ from private and standard channels? 

Public channels in Microsoft Teams are open to all team members. They allow unrestricted collaboration and are visible to everyone in the team. In contrast, private channels are exclusive to specific members, while standard channels are created by default when a team is set up and serve as the primary discussion areas for general topics involving the entire team. 

Can external collaboration be enabled in all types of channels, including private and standard channels? 

No, external collaboration is primarily facilitated through shared channels. Private channels are restricted to internal users only, and standard channels also do not support collaboration with users from external organisations. Shared channels, however, offer a collaboration space where internal and external users from different organisations can work together seamlessly using their respective Microsoft Teams environments. 

How can I invite an external person to collaborate within a shared channel using their email address? 

To invite an external person to a shared channel, you can create a shared channel within your team. Then, send an invitation to the external person using their email address, inviting them to join the channel. Once they accept the invitation, they can participate in the shared channel’s discussions and file sharing. 

What are the different roles in Microsoft Teams, and how do they apply to channel ownership and management? 

Microsoft Teams offers different roles such as “Owner”, “Member”, and “Guest”. The channel owner has full control over the channel’s settings, including adding and removing members, managing permissions, and controlling file sharing. Members have limited permissions within the channel, and guests are external users from other organisations who can participate in shared channels but may have some limitations based on their organisation’s policies. 

What are the key features of Shared Channels that make them valuable for collaboration on projects involving external organisations? 

Shared Channels in Microsoft Teams create a collaboration space that connects two separate Teams environments from different organisations. This feature allows smooth communication, file sharing, and collaboration between internal users from one organisation and external users from another. Shared Channels provide a dedicated channel for joint projects, enabling both internal and external users to work together efficiently within their own Teams environments.