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Microsoft
 

Creating a culture of camaraderie and personal connections to boost productivity and impact.

 

Team culture is the glue that holds an organization together. Today, I’m stoked to share with you something we created in our own kitchen and immensely benefitted from in shaping our team culture here at Microsoft Teams.

 

Introducing Icebreaker Bot: foster personal connections by pairing team members up for a meet up every week. This is surprisingly easy to set up. Just follow these steps – Step 1: create a team and invite people who are open to trying something new and meeting new people; Step 2: Install Icebreaker bot in this team.

Voila! Done! Every Monday at 10AM this bot will randomly pair each team member for a meetup. What’s even better – it will suggest times that are free for both parties (all thanks to Office 365 AI chops). See below for how the pair ups work:
 
IcebreakerScheduling1.gif 
As with all App Templates from Microsoft Teams, Icebreaker bot is a fully-built Teams app that is open-sourced so that you can brand and customize the experience for your employees.
Below is the story of humble beginnings of the Icebeaker bot, intertwined with a bit of history on the Teams product itself.

In March 2017, Microsoft announced the launch of Microsoft Teams. Since then, Teams has gone on to become the fastest growing app in the Microsoft’s history. While we were extremely proud of our success, such growth comes with its own set of challenges.
The concept of Microsoft Teams began with a small team offsite, led by (current Teams Corporate Vice President) Brian MacDonald at his Hawaiian fruit farm. Below is a picture from that time:
 

offsite.png

 

 
Since that day, the Teams team (we know..we know) has now grown exponentially, spread across multiple time zones around the world. At each all-hands meeting it became a ritual to welcome new team members with an ice-breaker tactic: have each person introduce themselves and share something unique about the person sitting next to them.
It worked well within the scope of the meeting, but outside it was becoming harder to bring a rapidly growing team to foster camaraderie and collaboration – a set of values that the Teams leadership placed high importance in.
 
 Sid, who was one of the early engineering managers in the team thought of running an experiment. He created a Teams Bot called “Meetuply”. Meetuply randomly paired team members up for coffee (or bubble tea which is quite popular among the team) every Monday at 10 AM. The app took off instantly tapping into the burning need everyone was facing – “Who are these new people and what are they working on?”.
Sid and the early adopters iterated quickly on the app and it grew virally simply by word of mouth. Team members would post their selfies or their pair ups to spread the cheer. Here are a few selfies from the early days:
 
Selfie #1: Meetuply facilitated disrupting geographical silos :smiling_face_with_smiling_eyes:

selfie1.png

 

Selfie #2: There is always excitement on who will get paired up w/ Brian each week. This guy got his lucky break this week.
selfie2.png
 
I fell in love with Meetuply when I joined Teams. It short-circuited growing my internal network here to a matter of few weeks. Pretty soon I knew everybody, and everybody knew me. I wanted to bring it to rest of Microsoft and externally to our partners and customers (as did many other people – Meetuply has a big fan following!).
 
During a meeting with someone in the team, Prasanna Bhat, Director of Customer Success Strategy, saw Meetuply on their desktop and immediately saw an immense opportunity in leveraging Meetuply within her 300-member strong community of Women in Customer Success. It took off instantly!
 
Here’s a selfie from Prasanna’s group:
prasanna.png

Prasanna:
“Diversity and Inclusion is a priority for the Customer Success and with the creation of the Women of Customer Success community, I was thinking about how we can drive strong connection in the worldwide community. I thought Meetuply was a simple yet effective way to meet peers. In just a short time, it has become one of the most effective ways of driving engagement and collaboration in the community and I receive messages every week on how much people enjoyed their Meetuply Match!”
 
Word of mouth spread – and it led to conversations with Mauri Rapuzzi, Manager of University recruiting who among other things, leads interns onboarding at Microsoft – each year 3,000+ interns are onboarded and making them feel a part of a larger family is Mauri’s toughest challenge. Mauri loved the idea and is now piloting the bot with a cohort joining us soon.

Encouraged by the electric enthusiasm internally, I set upon a plan to share Meetuply more broadly – and that is how ‘Icebreaker’ was born. With Sid’s help along with an awesome engineering team plus a little bit of creativity – we brought this experience out as an App Template that anyone and everyone can now use! It is essentially a twin of Meetuply but with more goodness added – deploying this bot to your instance of Teams is a matter of few clicks – no coding required!
 
One of our first customers to try Icebreaker bot is Vodafone. And here is what Jennifer Zhang, Innovation Manager at Vodafone’s employee innovation lab has to say about it – “We’re always looking for innovative ways to bring our diverse employee base to know each other better and break information silos. This is an exciting opportunity to do just that!”
 
So, go on give this bot a try in your organization. Visit this link to get started: www.Aka.ms/TeamsAppTemplates
 
As an added bonus, here's a wonderful video walkthrough of setting up Icebreaker for your team: Icebreaker Video Walkthrough
 
 
I’d love to hear your feedback on Icebreaker or ideas on what else you’d like to see from us. Please leave your comments and share your thoughts at this link here: Feedback
 
Also read:
 
18 Comments

What a great idea for a bot! Can it be used in the org-wide team? I can see a possibility of using the bot to encourage and reinforce adoption of Teams during a rollout. If not the org-wide team, using a Team for on-boarding - “Modern Workplace Day One”. It could be used to drive discussion about shifting to a Modern Workplace.

[Edit] Vlog: Icebreaker Bot idea - https://youtu.be/dJqUypvt0v0

Microsoft

Thanks @Darrell Webster! That's a wonderful idea. and yes, it can be used in org-wide teams. I'd recommend following a few best practices (e.g. announcing the bot and letting people opt in) shared here so team members have context coming in.

Senior Member

Would also be great to build on darrels idea and other in his video blog of actually an adoption bot..  You know.. Suggesting people have these meet ups over video, in a channel, sharing some files or even record ing and transcribing... Using teams outside of native IM is one of the hardest barriers..  Especially if that organisation has lots of other "services" they use and old habits..  

Microsoft

@Rob Quickenden - that's an interesting perspective. I hear you. We heard similar feedback from folks who had team members who were heavy users of email/occasional chat users. I can see that as a potential feature where the bot sends both an email and a chat message for pair ups which could reduce the inertia to set something up. Please post your ideas on the GitHub repo here. We have a cool list of 'taking it further' ideas that our community can help prioritize and develop :)

Frequent Visitor

Any chance you'll publish this as a bot in the apps "store" so folks can use it without involving our IT team? I love the idea of it, but there is somewhere between zero and no chance that I'll get our guys to implement it.

Microsoft

@Timothy Reilly , thanks for leaving a note. I'm curious as to why you say there is zero chance? We've invested a lot of thinking in making it really simple for IT admins to deploy it along with detailed documentation around data, security, solution architecture etc. 

 

Having said that, I think your idea is neat. I too want to see it in the app store. I'd recommend sharing your idea here our User Voice channel which influences are roadmap greatly. :) 

Frequent Visitor

"Too many other priorities, we haven't defined our Teams strategy yet, especially related to 3rd party apps and bots, I don't understand why anyone would want to use this, etc." 

It took a year of pestering them to get them to enable Teams for us, so we could finally kill Basecamp (almost dead - we just need a real calendar option), get people to stop spawning Trello boards (Planner is almost there), and keep people from spinning up lots of rogue Slack accounts. 

 

I'll make the request to them, as I agree the documentation looks pretty easy, but I've been down this road before. Figured I'd ask whether a generic version was going to be released as a published bot before banging my head against the wall, again.

Microsoft

Thanks again @Timothy Reilly, I hope it works this time! Keep us posted.

Occasional Contributor

What a great idea - love it! In the past I have used external third party applications that do this but knowing now that it can be developed internally for Teams changes things.  Thanks for sharing, I'm going to share this to my colleagues to see what we can do :)

Microsoft

@Helen Blunden  - thanks so much for your kind words. Glad to see you have more options to choose from now. We've invested a lot in making the documentation and deployment super easy and automated for you to follow. Let me know if you need any help as you deploy it within your organization. 

One more thing, I'm curious what third party applications you have used?

Senior Member

I really like the ideas behind this bot. Followed the great vid of Tom Morgan, but doesn't work yet.

The logic app runs without errors, but I don't see anything happening in my Team(s).
When I chat to the bot (I know, not what's meant to be) it responds with a card with the Take a tour button only.

Any tips?

 

Kind regards,

Maurits

 

 

Contributor

@BusyIntelligence  Im having the same experience.  I set up a new team, Im the owner...I installed Icebreaker and I received the Hi There card from Icebreaker with Take a Tour...but nothing else has happened.   Any pointers on what to check?

Microsoft

Hey (@BusyIntelligence) Maurits and (@David Christensen) David, thanks so much for giving Icebreaker a try and sharing your notes here. The pair ups happen Monday 10AM pacific... so your team members should get notifications then. Drop me a note at nidhi.shandilya@microsoft.com and I'll make sure there aren't any issues with your installation.

Senior Member

Hi @NidhiShandilya , thanks for you reply. I'll wait to see what happens next Monday, but have doubts.

I've changed the schedule of the Logicapp so that it ran a couple of times this afternoon. I've also started the app manually.

The app seems to run fine, completes succesfully everytime.

Shouldn't that do something within Teams?

 

BTW My resourcegroup is located in Europe - West. Should that work?

Microsoft

@BusyIntelligence, yes it should and West Europe is fine too. Let me send you an IM and we'll go from there.

Occasional Visitor

This sounds great. I have to echo @Timothy Reilly though. We've seen Teams adoption in our org precisely because it didn't need much from our Admins. As a fast growing company those Admins already have lots of business critical work allocated to them. Don't get me wrong I love the concept I just need to be able to enable it without needing to call on an Admin.

Regular Visitor

Thanks for a great tool! This has created quite a buzz in the office. Couple of comments / questions:

 - The LogicApp runs at 10am every Monday, but nothing seems to happen. If I go into the Logic App and manually trigger it, then everything works and messages are sent.

 - We are now in week 2, and it seems like the bot is not considering previous meet-ups in the scheduling algorithm. I.e. in week 1 and 2, we have the same team members paired up. Is this something the bot can / should do?

 

Will continue to test and provide feedback.

 

Ruan

Microsoft

@Ruan Viljoen thanks so much for sharing your feedback! so glad to know the idea is resonating in your company. Let me send you a message and I'd be happy to unblock you here.