How to use Breakout Rooms in Microsoft Teams

Can you use breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams? You actually can! 

Breakout Rooms in Microsoft Teams

AUTHOR: Malene Marie Bendixen Jacobsen, Agile Coach

I have always been a fan of Zoom and it’s breakout room functionality for my virtual sessions, and I must admit I was always skeptical when working on Microsoft Teams as I hand a long list of “issues” with what they could do for remote teams. Breakout room functionality was at the top of this list. How could large programs run events such as PI planning if different teams could not self-organize and find different virtual meeting rooms to have discussions and meetings?

Initially, I did not think it was possible. Zoom had made it so easy, and it was the yardstick against which I judged all platforms.

Given the fact that we are often obliged to use the tools selected by our clients, at Kaizania we took on the challenge to figure out how to swop Zoom for Microsoft Teams, could it actually work?

We were skeptical to start with, but we had to give it a try. We didn’t want to waste a good crisis…and guess what? Whilst it is not as easy to figure out – once you know what to do you can achieve great results with Microsoft Teams.

How to setup Breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams

In MS Teams you have your Main team, in this Example: Kaizania.

Under this Team you create channels: General, Breakout Room 1, Breakout Room 2, Breakout Room 3, Main Room. Use the names to help guide people into the right places later on…

Breakout Rooms in Microsoft Teams, done by channels

In each of these channels you can start a conversation by going to the channel and clicking on the “video” icon that is situated at the bottom middle of your screen – its small so keep your eyes peeled.

Session in Channels - breakout rooms

This starts up a meeting in the channel for others to join, if you need more breakout rooms leave the meeting on and go to the Team tab again…. Click on the next channel and open that up by clicking on the “video” icon again.

In my example, you can see I have now a session going on in Breakout Room 1 that is paused and then I am active in Breakout Room 2.

Breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams

I can then go and start Breakout Room 3. After starting Breakout Room 3 I return to the Teams overview and it looks like this:

Breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams

You can see I have a session in each of the 3 rooms and I can swop between which one I attend.

Now everyone that has access to your team on MS Teams can join the session in each breakout room.

Benefits of Breakout Rooms in Microsoft Teams

  • People can swop between the rooms themselves. Really nice. In Zoom, people had to request access to go to a particular breakout room and since this could only be done by the host of the meeting that person was busy being an online concierge the whole session!
  • It is a tool many of our clients already use. It seems the bigger the corporate, more entrenched MS Teams is!
  • The Kaizania team often has multiple Agile Coaches at a client, this allows us swop in and out in all the rooms by our self – no need to be assigned.
  • You can save information in each of the channels too. It is a place to communicate, share information and collaborate all in one.

The downside of Breakout Rooms in Microsoft Teams

  • People have to have access to the team
  • You cannot force them back into the main session. This is useful for having all parties get together at a set time. We use other means to communicate this like Whatsapp or else you are expected to visit each room and ask people to finish up.
  • You cannot broadcast to the breakout rooms (Apart from Whatsapp, another solution where you can write in the each session chat – slower, but it does the job)

Lessons from running breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams with +100 people.

  • Each person could only open 4 rooms at a time, we needed +10 rooms to be opened, so multiple people needed to open the rooms (this could be related to individual user rights, but it was difficult for outside Agile Coaches)
  • The person that has started the session in a room also has to end it (remember which session you opened ) Forget this, and you may have a big data bill.
  • Whoever opens up the breakout room will have the MS Teams popup in their view for the  entire meeting – beware if this will be an issue.

Has MS Teams become my new favorite tool? It depends. It works really well for company events such as PI Planning and Inspect & Adapt sessions – so yes, in those cases I would choose MS Teams, but I would still go back to Zoom for my virtual training sessions and when I have other public events where everyone is not from the same company. It is, however, vital to know how to master all the digital tools out there. So give it a shot.

See more on Teams and Channels here: