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How to find your files in Microsoft Teams: Tips for Difficult Searches

With the increasing use of Microsoft Teams in companies as a result of digital transformation, challenges have arisen in searching for documents.

In particular, during the COVID-19 pandemic, teams were often introduced in an unstructured manner, which in many cases made documents and teams difficult to find due to the wild growth of data, leading to reduced user acceptance.

A study by the Stuttgart Media University (HdM) confirms this problem.
In general, establishing governance policies can significantly improve document search and productivity in Microsoft Teams.

By setting policies and standards for the creation, storage, and organization of documents and other content within teams, search processes can be made more efficient and effective.

A clear and uniform structure helps users quickly and easily access the documents they need and saves time during the search.

In addition, compliance with governance policies ensures that content is correctly and uniformly tagged and categorized, further improving findability.

Establishing governance policies can also help avoid messy team rooms where important information may be lost or difficult to find.

Microsoft Teams Governance study confirms document search challenges

The HdM study found that 80% of companies have not established clear team structures and only 41% use clear naming rules.

28% of employees have to search for a long time for stored or shared documents, indicating a lack of structure within teams or that each team is structured differently.

In addition, many users frequently overlook messages, presumably because the use of communication channels within the company is not consistently defined.

26% of employees do not always know which messaging channel is best suited for which information.

Reasons for difficult document search in Microsoft Teams

The challenges of searching for files in Teams are diverse and can greatly impair team work.

1.    Duplicate documents
2.    Missing metadata
3.    No lifecycle management

Duplicate documents, missing metadata, and no lifecycle anagement in place are some of the main causes of these challenges.

One of these causes is the duplication of documents.

When different team members copy the same file multiple times, this can cause the documents to appear multiple times in search results, and it can take a lot of time to find the right document.

Users must click on each document individually to check if it is the desired document.

Searching for files in Microsoft Teams can be difficult as the document search in Microsoft Teams is limited and cannot be expanded.

It becomes even more time-consuming when users do not use metadata as documents become harder to find.

Without lifecycle management in place, the number of documents continues to increase, impairing the search experience for end-users and making it difficult for them to find the required documents quickly and effectively.

Inadequate lifecycle management can make it challenging to identify teams that are no longer in use or to properly archive or delete documents after the completion of a project.

Valid and reusable information and documents can be difficult to identify, making their transfer into a knowledge management system impossible and impeding the search.

The negative consequences for productivity, employee satisfaction, and enjoyment are significant.

Difficult document search can lead to a loss of productivity and frustration among employees, and can result in significant costs for companies.

If every employee loses just one minute per day searching for documents, this can cause a loss of about 330 hours per month in a large company with 1,000 employees.

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How to improve file search in Microsoft Teams?

To improve file search in Microsoft Teams, a number of measures should be implemented.

1.    Information Architecture 
2.    File Tagging 
3.    Lifecycle Management 
4.    Implementation Search Portal Development 

First, you need to define the optimal information architecture for your Teams and SharePoint sites.

This is the key to successful document and content search.

This includes structuring, organizing, and categorizing documents and other content using taxonomies, metadata, folders, subfolders, or custom fields.

To ensure that the information architecture meets users' needs, it should be tailored to them.

It is important that the information architecture is simple and intuitive, allowing users to quickly find what they are looking for.

Additionally, the information architecture should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that it continues to meet users' needs and is up-to-date.

File tagging based on the defined information architecture is another important step in improving document search in Microsoft Teams.

Files can be tagged with additional descriptions and information that are helpful in search and categorization.

These metadata can include topics, categories, keywords, or other relevant information.

Clear tagging also makes it easier to avoid duplicates and organize content more effectively.

Metadata should also be simple and intuitive to ensure that users can easily understand and apply them.

Use consistent and uniform metadata to ensure that documents and other content are correctly categorized and organized.

Use a limited number of metadata fields to keep them meaningful and useful.

Regularly review metadata to ensure that they meet current user needs and are correct.

The use of lifecycle management in Microsoft Teams can help improve document search by effectively managing teams and documents throughout their lifecycle.

During the working phase and the end phase, files should be automatically archived or deleted when they are no longer needed.

This reduces the number of outdated or unnecessary files and makes search easier.

Deleting inactive teams can also help reduce the number of teams and simplify search.

Set expiration dates or deadlines for files to ensure that they are regularly reviewed and updated or deleted as necessary.

Set up automated notifications or reminders to team members when documents or teams are about to expire or be archived to prevent important information from being lost.

Implementing the above steps also helps in setting up an enterprise search portal.

This allows users to quickly and easily access the information they need by providing a central interface for searching for information from various sources.

To implement a search portal, you should not only plan the information architecture but also define the search requirements.

Identify what type of data and documents you want to search for and what search methods and functions you need to achieve the desired results.

For an effective enterprise search portal with Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, you should also consider advanced document search capabilities.

Such a search portal provides a central interface for searching for information from various sources.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) such as SharePoint Syntex and the ability to automatically analyze documents and extract metadata play an important role in this.

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Problems with manual optimization of difficult document search 

  1. Manual tagging of documents
  2. Lack of knowledge about templating & structuring
  3. Insufficient capacity for defining information architectures 

A manual approach to solving document search problems in Microsoft Teams can come with several challenges.

This can include challenges such as employees lacking competence in creating templates and defining metadata, insufficient capacity to perform manual tasks, as well as limited time to manually tag documents.

This can result in employees becoming overwhelmed and the quality of metadata being inadequate, further hindering the effectiveness of document search.

What are the obstacles to improving search in Microsoft Teams?

Improving search in Microsoft Teams can be challenging due to several obstacles.

Firstly, manual structuring and organization of content require a significant amount of time and resources to be effectively executed.

Secondly, the absence of tools for automated metadata extraction and tagging can further complicate the work.

Additionally, it can be challenging to find time for careful planning and definition of an information architecture that considers user needs.

All these factors can result in a less effective search experience in Microsoft Teams, negatively impacting collaboration and user productivity.

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How to improve file search in Microsoft Teams - practical tips

If you're trying to address the aforementioned issues with document search in Microsoft Teams on your own, the first step is to define your information architecture.

Then, use this defined information architecture to create templates and template mechanisms.

Automated provisioning of structures and metadata using the PnP Provisioning Framework

The PnP Provisioning Framework is often used as an industry standard for deploying structures and information architectures.
PnP templates can be executed using PowerShell and Power Automate to automatically provision structures.

If Power Automate is not available, Microsoft Graph can also be used, but it requires more implementation effort.

The PnP Provisioning Framework can help improve document search in Microsoft Teams by making it easier to structure teams and use metadata.

Using PowerShell and Power Automate, PnP templates can be automatically executed to create teams with predefined structures and metadata.

This ensures that documents are properly categorized and tagged, making document search easier.

While using Microsoft Graph requires more implementation effort, it provides another option for automating and optimizing information architecture in Teams.

Creating a custom provisioning solution requires a lot of time and expertise from the IT team.

Therefore, it is an important decision whether to use a self-built provisioning solution or a third-party solution.

A third-party solution could, for example, provide automated metadata tagging that automatically tags documents as they are uploaded to Teams.

Additionally, teams and documents can be automatically archived or deleted when they are no longer needed.

A general search portal or a search portal per application scenario?

The decision whether to provide a general search portal or a search portal per application scenario depends on the needs and requirements of the company.

Many companies initially try to provide a general search portal for all employees to simplify the search for information.

However, they later find that a separate search hub is needed for each application scenario.

For this reason, many companies as a second step try to create a search portal for each application scenario, such as a sales hub for sales staff or a collaboration hub for project staff.

This reduces the search scope and increases the discoverability of documents, allowing employees to find documents more targeted and quickly.

However, a general search portal can still be used as a knowledge hub for the entire company to provide a central source of information.


In summary, document search in Microsoft Teams poses a challenge for companies, especially when teams are introduced in an unstructured manner.

A Microsoft Teams governance study conducted by the Media University Stuttgart confirms that 80% of companies lack clear team structures, and only 41% use clear naming conventions.

Duplicate document repositories, missing metadata, and inadequate lifecycle management can further complicate document search and lead to a loss of productivity and frustration among employees.

To improve document search in Microsoft Teams, companies should define an optimal information architecture, tag documents with metadata, and use lifecycle management.

In addition, 3rd-party solutions can automate the provisioning of metadata and information architectures, enabling better search functionality and higher relevance of search results in Microsoft Teams.