In this post we are going to discuss how you can use a Microsoft Teams Team, to enable you to have a main meeting or lesson in Teams, where the attendees then split out into Breakout Groups or Rooms for collaboration work, and can then rejoin the main meeting at the appropriate time.

This is Blog post was original describing how to achieve this with standard teams functionality, this was prior to Microsoft adding Breakout Rooms as a feature in Teams.   Just for information and history we have left the information on how to achieve this without using the new feature at the bottom of this post, and added the following section on how the new Breakout Rooms feature works.

What is a Breakout Room?

Breakout rooms have arrived in Teams! They allow you to create rooms where you can have a separate meeting within a meeting. This is ideal for people who are attending a meeting to have a private chat, with the option to returning to the original meeting.

Breakout Rooms and Breakout sessions are subgroups of the main Session, Meeting, or Lesson to enable the larger groups to be split into smaller working groups to discuss and collaborate on the given subject. 

Although of most use in training and education situations, this can also be used for project planning, requirements gathering, and other types of workshops.

Using Breakout Rooms in Microsoft Teams

Only meeting organisers using the desktop version of Teams can create breakout rooms. The highlighted icon below is for Breakout rooms.

1.  Select Breakout rooms and chose how many rooms you need – the maximum is 50. Then either assign participants Automatically or Manually and select Create Rooms

To assign people manually to a breakout room, select Manually and check peoples’ names and then assign a room. At this stage you can add more rooms and assign people accordingly

2. Once you have assigned somebody to a room, you must open the room by clicking the three dots '...' beside the room and selecting open - the room status will change from Closed to Open

3. The attendees will be notified on screen that: The breakout room session has started. You will be automatically moved in 10 seconds
4. As a meeting organiser you can join any of the breakout room by selecting the More options ‘…’ next to the room and Join room. When the meeting organiser joins a breakout room, the original meeting is put on hold
5. To send an announcement to everybody in all the breakout rooms, select the (…) and choose Make an announcement 

6. When finished with the breakout rooms, you can either close one or all of them at once. To close one, select More options and pick the room that you would like to close. Alternatively, select Close rooms to close them all
7. Attendees who want to return to the main meeting can select Return

8. Please note - when the attendees have finished with their breakout rooms and want to join the original meeting – and if you as the meeting organiser have also joined a breakout room – you must select Resume to start the original meeting and then the attendees will automatically join it

Chats in Breakout Rooms

Any files that are shared or chats that occur in a breakout room are saved to Chats.

Please Note:

  • Only a meeting organiser can move freely between multiple breakout rooms
  • You must be using the desktop version of Teams – not the web app – to organise breakout rooms; however, attendees can use the web app / mobile app to take part in breakout rooms
  • Attendees can present in breakout rooms by default
  • You can rename your breakout room by selecting the ‘…’ by the room’s name
  • In each breakout room you can record, chat, and share content just like a regular team meeting
  • Breakout rooms become part of the original meeting and remain in place for further use, if required
  • A room must have attendees assigned for it to open
  • You can start breakout rooms individually, or all at once
  • If a guest selects Rejoin while in a breakout room, they will leave that room and the original meeting; in order to rejoin the original meeting they must click on the link which they were initially sent

Creating Breakout Rooms without using the Teams Feature.

This section has been left in this blog post for history and in case it is still of use to anyone. 

Step 1:  Start with a Teams Team

So firstly to achieve this you will need a Teams Team, and your main Session or meeting should be organised from within your chosen Microsoft Teams Team, in our example we created the Microsoft Teams Tips team you can see here:

Step 2:  Create a Channel for each Breakout Room

We will need a channel in this Team for each Breakout room we need. These are created in the Standard way of creating a channel.

Give each channel a relevant name to correspond to your Breakout groups. This could be subject-related or simply numbered so that you can let your attendees know which Breakout group they need to be joining. 

At this point, you can choose to allow all the members of your main Teams team access to every channel / Breakout group, or you can choose the "Private -  Accessible only to a specific group of people with the team". It depends on how much you want to control your audience's ability to join each Breakout room and your particular use-case as to which option works best for you. Sometimes locking it down in this way can help remove the confusion of the audience knowing which Breakout meeting they are supposed to join as they will only be able to see the one they can access.

You should then have your Team with the correct number of Channels to match how many breakout groups you need; in this example, we have 3.

Step 3:  Start your Main meeting from the Team

The main meeting can be started from the General channel of the Team, in the normal way.

This could either be a scheduled call or a Meet now call. Both can be initiated by selecting the camera icon below the new conversation box:

Start the meeting, from this point onwards, even when you start going into the Breakout sessions via the Channels, do not close the meeting until the entire session is over.

If you navigate back to the Team by clicking on 'Teams' in the left-hand panel, you will see a camera icon next to the General tab and the meeting in the Conversation feed, indicating the main meeting is underway.

At this stage, you could also start the Breakout channel meetings so you are ready for the Breakout sessions to start, or you can wait until they are needed during your session. 

Step 4: Creating each Breakout Room meeting

Once you are ready to open the breakout rooms, navigate to each of the channels in turn, by clicking 'Teams' on the right hand panel, selecting your team and then selecting the chanel. Using the 'Meet Now' Option in each channels conversation feed, start a meeting for each one. Remember to keep the main meeting open as you do this (don't press the red button to close the meetings now until your whole session is over.)

Each time you open a new meeting, you will need to navigate back to the main Team and select the next channel to open the next one. 

Finally, as you navigate back to the Team you will notice that each channel now has a camera icon next to it, and that you have a list of meetings in the top left showing that some are on hold and you are in one of them.

If you now select the play button next to the "General" meeting and select the meeting preview to go full screen, you will be back in the main General meeting and are now ready to go. 

You will also notice that from this main meeting, you can see each of your other meetings on hold. You can visit each one as and when you want to, simply by clicking the triangle play button. You can drop in and out as often as you wish.

Step 5: Breakout work and back to Main Meeting

Now instruct your students or attendees to go and join the meeting in their relevant channel (allocated breakout session) in this team. To do this they can navigate to the channel via the left-hand panel by clicking 'Teams', select the Team, click on the Breakout room / Teams Channel you have allocated or instructed them to go to. Then they should be able to join the meeting by clicking 'Join' button in the conversation feed:

As the Breakout sessions and group collaboration progress in each of the Channel meeting rooms, you as the person running the session can jump between each meeting to help out and check on progress simply by clicking the triangle play button on each meeting bar in turn.

Once the Breakout sessions are complete, you can ask your attendees to leave their Breakout meetings by clicking the red hangup button in the meeting and to rejoin the main meeting in the General Channel. It's best to Instruct them all that if they lose the meeting they can easily get back to it by going to the General Channel and clicking on 'Join meeting'.

Here is a great you tube video from a well known Microsoft expert called Kevin Stratvert, demonstrating how to to do this, I hope this helps:

There we have it, Breakout rooms in a Teams Meeting using the standard functionality.

Microsoft are working on more Breakout room-specific functionality, although it is not clear yet on when that will be available.  Take a look at this user voice  - https://microsoftteams.uservoice.com/forums/555103-public/suggestions/35000044-introduce-breakout-room-functionality

Hopefully, we will soon be able to update this post with a more structured way of achieving this, in the meantime, I hope this can help you.

About the author 

Fraser Beadle

I work in Collab365 as Product and Operations manager. My focus is on Community Sponsorship, our Collab365 Workshops, and our new 365ers platform where members will be able to learn together.