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The most-requested feature ever for Microsoft Teams is now officially available to all Teams users on the commercial and education clouds (government/GCC is not yet supported).
Private Channels are like the other Channels in your Team, except the Channel conversations and files can have different permissions from the rest of the Team. This feature is a really big deal to a lot of Teams users out there.
This is a popular request because 1) there are a lot of use cases for when a Channel needs to be protected from the rest of the Team; 2) SharePoint users moving to Teams expect a Teams version of “object-level permissions”, and 3) well, Slack has this feature, therefore many people expect it.
Here’s a video version of this blog post, if you prefer it.
Some very high-level but key points to be familiar with when it comes to Private Channels (PCs) are listed below. Further below that, I get into the nitty-gritty of each of the major areas of PC management. If it’s not covered in the highlights, it’s probably covered further down.
- PCs have their own owners. Team owners are not necessarily PC owners. Team owners that are not PC owners cannot access the PC.
- PC members must be a subset of the Team members.
- External guests can be members of a PC, though they may not be a PC owner.
- Files are stored in a separate, PC-specific SharePoint site (collection).
- Permissions to the SharePoint site should be managed in Teams only.*
- PCs support tabs and connectors.
- PCs have their own email address like any other Channel.
- PCs do not support bots, apps (including Planner), or scheduled Channel meetings.
Managing Private Channels
General Private Channel settings
PCs have their own settings separate from the Team. For example, the ability to @mention a channel may be disabled in the Team, but it can be allowed in a PC.
Creating a Private Channel
Create a Private Channel from the + Create Channel option in your Team. When you create the PC, you are automatically made the PC owner.
PCs can only be created. You cannot convert an existing Channel into a PC.
Limiting Private Channel creation
You can limit the creation of PCs to just Team owners. Go to the ellipses next to the Team name > Manage team > Settings > Allow members to create private channels. Note that this is distinct from the Allow creating and updating standard channels option, which means PC creation is treated separately from regular Channels.
Modifying a Private Channel
Private Channel names can be changed just like any other Channel. For permissions modifications, see Permissions section below.
Deleting a Private Channel
Private Channels can be deleted just like any other Channel. One major difference is the SharePoint site storing the files gets deleted too.
Restoring a Private Channel
You can restore a deleted PC the same way you can restore any other Channel (within the restoration period). The SharePoint site associated with that PC will be restored as well.
Private Channel owner rights
When you create a PC, you become the owner of that PC, even if you’re not the owner of the Team. You can add owners to your PC, but they must be a member of the parent Team first. All owners of the PC are also at least members of the Team.
It’s possible for a PC to go ownerless when people leave a PC. In this case, Teams chooses a member from the PC to be auto-promoted as the owner of the PC. (How Teams chooses is not documented as of yet.)
Team owner rights
While owners of PCs need not be owners of the Team (based on default settings), Team owners can see the name and description of all PCs in their Team. They also have the ability to delete PCs.
However, Team owners have no access to conversations, files, or any other features of a PC unless they’re made a member (or owner) of that PC.
I don’t really see a reason not to make a Team owner also a PC member or owner, even if the Team is large. Being a Team owner means responsibility, and it can’t hurt to include the strategic insights of the Team owner in the PC as well. But that’s a judgment call for you to make.
Private Channel members
PC owners can add and remove members just like with a Team. However, to be a member of the PC, the user must be (at least) a member of the Team first. All members of the PC are also at members or owners of the Team. There is a limit of 250 members of a PC.
If a user leaves or is removed from the Team, they are consequently removed from the PC.
For implications on access to files, see the Files section below.
External guests in Private Channels
External users/guests can be added to a PC just like with a Team. Just like any other PC member, the guest must also be a member of the Team first.
There’s an important implication here: if you’re looking to invite guests to your PC to share only certain information with them and not the rest of the Team, you cannot do this.
As with any Teams Channel, you’re going to want a central place to keep your Files and that will be the associated Files tab. But, unlike other Teams Channels, this tab in a PC doesn’t point to a similarly named folder in the Documents library in the Team’s dedicated SharePoint site.
No, instead, each PC gets its own SharePoint site. This site type appears to be unique and is not a typical Team or Communication site. It has no home page; in fact it has no pages at all. It appears to exist solely for the use of the Documents library, which displays in the PC Files tab (no Channel-level folders in this situation).
This is one of the more important points about PCs. This site has its own existence, is essentially a slave to Teams, and has zero connection to the parent Team’s site permission-wise. It’s not a sub site to the parent Teams site. It is a disparate entity that requires its own responsible owner.
Do. Not. Touch. Well, you can kind-of touch. But anything related to the site owners/members groups is off-limits. As the documentation states:
For Teams, membership is mastered in the O365 Group and synced with Teams/SharePoint appropriately. For Private Channels, the membership is a strict subset of the Team’s O365 Group but mastered by Teams with a sync to SharePoint.This results in a tight coupling of the Owner & Member roles across a Private Channel and its backing Site Collection.
Any changes you make to the site owners or members group will quickly be overwritten and returned back to whatever the Teams owner/member groups are. Microsoft is not kidding when they say tight coupling.
You can feel free to make changes to the visitor group and create other SharePoint (security) groups for specific permissions if you’d like. However, beware; this can become complex and difficult to manage very quickly.
For those of you with access to the SharePoint Admin Portal, you’ll note that these new sites don’t show up there. Apparently that’s by design, in an effort to keep the list of site collections from being littered by PC site collections. That said, it recalls a bad taste in my mouth back to when Teams/Group sites were invisible without PowerShell. Just know that they are/can be there. You just can’t see them (yet).
For those of you concerned about how Azure Information Protection (AIP) and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) will work, here goes:
- PC conversations and files are classified the same as the Team. This appears to be one of the few places where files in a PC are coupled with files in the Team.
- DLP in conversations is inherited from the parent Team.
- DLP in files is separate from DLP in the parent Team.
I’ve been a vocal opponent of Private Channels. I won’t hide it. I personally think that PCs take a vicious hit at the original principle of Teams: to be a simple, easy-to-use portal for communicating, collaborating, and getting stuff done (in a way that “doesn’t look like SharePoint”).
SharePoint admins and power users have been crying for years about object-level permissions leading to ongoing management nightmares. Private Channels are literally the same thing and will lead to crazy permissions issues across the Teams platform. Which is why I generally don’t like them. What I do like is the simplicity of the original Teams experience; I don’t want to give people too much power to shoot themselves in their feet.
All that said, I totally see the use case and I understand why people want Private Channels. Since I have no control over whether they come, when they come, and how they work, I simply want to ensure everyone uses Private Channels smartly and correctly.
Hence this article. I’m hoping you found it helpful.
Comments and questions are welcome. Please post below.
Special thanks to Chris Webb for his expert peer review of this article and plenty of other Microsoft Teams-related publications I’ve been involved in.
- Official documentation from Microsoft
- John Peluso’s overview of PCs, which includes good use cases and bad use cases: https://www.avepoint.com/blog/microsoft-teams/microsoft-teams-private-channels-2/
- 2019–11–12: Originally this post said wikis are not supported in Private Channels. That was based on documentation from Microsoft, which has been changed. Wikis are indeed supported in PCs.
Obviously you have an opinion, so share it!