How to Collaborate with People Outside Your Organization with Microsoft Teams

Your company can lose approximately $420K per year! Believe it or not, that would be the case if your team has miscommunication issues. Communication is not exclusive to team members. It extends to many other parties from outside the organization— contractors, clients, consultants, outsourcing professionals, etc.

Ensuring an efficient level of collaboration requires establishing sufficient communication channels between company employees and everyone else. Microsoft Teams brings the outside in as a prominent collaboration solution and provides multi-level collaboration features to increase productivity and eliminate any lack of communication.

Internal collaboration is highly supported, but you can also collaborate with people outside your organization through different approaches. External access and guest access are the primary forms Microsoft Teams offers. This article will introduce both and demonstrate their differences and how they work.

External vs. guest users

Users of Microsoft Teams can contact people both internally and from other organizations and even invite them into their digital workspace with various permissions.

There are two main ways of collaborating with people outside your organization with Microsoft Teams. You can grant them either an external access or a guest access. 

The key differences

Simply put, you can grant external access only to users who use Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Skype for Business. They are not members of any of your teams, but you can still communicate with them. Guest access, on the other hand, allows you to invite external users to join your team. They get a guest account on Azure Directory. 

Here are the differences in more detail:

Search functionality

Organization users could search for external access users in other organizations using their email addresses or Session Initiated Protocol. Meanwhile, they can’t find guests through search functionality. 

Share files

Organization users can’t share files with external users but can normally share them with guests.

Out-of-office message

Organization users can’t see the out-of-office message of external users in another organization but can see it for guests.

Blocking users

Organization users can’t block external access users in another organization but can block guests.

Using mentions

Organization users can utilize mentions with external access users in 1:1 chat for Teams Only users from different organizations. Meanwhile, they can’t mention guests. At the same time, people from outside the organization can mention external users and guests.

Accessing resources

External users can’t access Teams resources, but guests can.

Viewing phone numbers

Guests can view the phone numbers for dial-in meeting participants, but external access users can’t.

Microsoft Teams tip

Typically, it’s not allowed for external participants to see the phone numbers of dial-in participants. Go to Tones for Entry/exit announcement type to adjust these phone numbers’ privacy settings.

Meet now feature

External users can’t use the Meet Now feature, while guests can do that by default unless Teams admin disables it.

With external users, you can only set up calls, invite them to meetings and chat. However, these users can’t share, view, or access files across other Teams domains.

Turning on External access

From Microsoft Teams Admin Center:

  1. Click Org-wide settings
  2. Select External access
  3. Switch on Users can communicate with other Skype for Business and Teams users
user permissions for external access in microsoft teams

External access configuration

It is enabled for all Microsoft Teams domains by default. However, it’s possible to restrict that setting by allowing or blocking particular domains in Teams. From Microsoft Teams Admin Center:

  1. Click Users
  2. Select External access
  3. Choose one of the options to Allow all external domains (open federation), Allow only specific external domains, Block all external domains, or Block specific domains.
external access in teams

What features do external users have access to?

  • Get invited to group chats and meetings
  • Use Gifs, memes, and stickers in conversations
  • Send, delete and edit messages
  • Use mention feature and screen sharing mode

Guest access

To collaborate with people outside your organization in Microsoft Teams, you can also grant them guest access. Guests are pretty close to external access users but they can also view and share files and join group chats. Guests are semi-native Microsoft Teams members who can only share data within Teams where they’ve been invited. In other words, guests can’t join and share in any external spaces.

Turning on Guest access

From Microsoft Teams Admin Center

1.Click Org-wide settings

2. Select Guest access

3. Select Allow guest access in Teams

4. Switch to On, then Save

guest access in microsoft teams

Guest access configuration

From Microsoft Teams Admin Center, go to Guest access and switch features On/Off based on your preferences. For example, you can enable/disable chats, send messages, delete messages, make private calls, screen sharing mode, allow Meet Now, and many other features.

Adding a Guest to a Team

Note that only team owners can add guests in Teams. From Microsoft Teams Admin Center:

  1. Click Teams
  2. Select More options (…) then click Add member
  3. Enter the guest’s email address
  4. Click Edit guest information, and give the new guest a nickname
  5. Click Add
add a member to a team

How to invite external users to Teams meetings?

Open the Microsoft Teams Calendar

  1. Click New meeting 
  2. Type the meeting name in the Meeting Title bar
  3. Type the email addresses for external attendees in the Required Attendees bar
  4. Invitees will receive an email invitation

Removing a Guest when the project is over

Removing a guest is pretty easy. From Microsoft Teams Admin Center:

  1. Click Teams
  2. Select More options (…) then click Members Tab
  3. Under the Members & Guests section
  4. Choose the guest you wish to remove
  5. Click on “X


  • Once you invite a guest, they’ll receive an invitation email welcoming them to Microsoft Teams.
  • Guests must have a Microsoft 365 account, and if they don’t have one, they’ll be asked to create a new account.

What features do guests have access to?

Guests in Microsoft Teams can:

  • Create channels if allowed by Teams owner 
  • Participate in a private chat, make a private call, and use IP video
  • Get invited to group chats and meetings
  • Use Gifs, memes, and stickers in conversations
  • Participate in a channel conversation
  • Send, delete and edit messages
  • Share channel files and access Teams resources
  • Use mentions, Meet Now, and screen sharing mode

Note: the above features are enabled by default in Microsoft Teams. However, Teams admins can disable them to control what Guests can access.

Organizing the collaboration with people outside your organization in Microsoft Teams

Now that you know what guest and external users entail and how you can add them to your teams, let us dive deeper on how to actual collaborate with people outside your organization in Microsoft Teams. 


To start chatting with an external user, go to the chat section and create a new conversation. Input the email address or the phone number of the user you want to chat with. If it’s a user that you’ve previously interacted with, they will pop up in the results. If they’re new, click on Search [email address] externally. Teams will locate them, categorize them as an external user, and you can start chatting. 

Chatting with guest users takes the same form as chatting with your internal staff as you’re giving them temporary access to your team. 

Arranging meetings 

The simplest way of arranging meetings in Teams that includes people outside your organization is to either go to the calendar app in Teams and input their email address as an invitee or create a calendar invite from Outlook and similarly, invite them to the meeting. 

People who don’t use teams will be able to connect without having to install Microsoft Teams, a web browser is sufficient.  

Collaborating on files 

As already noted, users with guest access can collaborate on documents just like other team members. If you wish them to have access to only one channel, you can create a Shared channel designed exactly for these purposes. Your guest users will have access only to the shared channel they were invited to, and the rest of the channels will stay hidden. Learn more here.

But how can you do that with external users who you didn’t provide with access? Here is a quick tip: 

  1. Go to the files tab where you stored the document you want to share.
  2. Open the document and in upper left side you will see a share icon that says Copy Link.
  1. When you click on it a new window pops up with link settings. 
  2. From here, you can choose who you want the link to look for. 
share file link in microsoft teams
  1. Go to Specific people and input the email address of the external user. 
  2. Click on Apply and you will have a link that you can share with that particular external user. 
  3. If you want them to be able to edit the file in addition to viewing, enable the Allow editing button. 
  4. When the external user receives the link, Microsoft will send a confirmation code to the email mentioned by you and only after entering the right code, will they be able to work on the file. 

Safety and security

Collaborating with people outside the organization has always raised many security concerns. Uncontrolled sharing, data leakage, and loss of sensitive information are a few examples of what could possibly go wrong in collaboration platforms. However, Microsoft Teams has developed a firm external sharing system by dividing permissions into different levels. 

Even in Microsoft Teams, there are some security recommendations to keep the organization’s data safe and protected:

  • Allow minimal permissions and enable what’s necessary for guests to complete their work without additional features.
  • Decide who has the ability to invite guests into Teams. Is it admins? Non-admins? or even guests. You can do that by configuring the External collaboration settings in Azure AD.
  • Make sure to disable external sharing for sensitive files and folders
  • Only control adding and removing guests via the Microsoft Teams Client rather than other portals like Microsoft 365.

Learn more about Microsoft Teams security best practices.

Deciding between giving users external edit access or inviting them as guests depends on specific business cases. However, it’s essential to differentiate between these main types and what permissions each one allows. Otherwise, the company’s valuable data might be exposed to unauthorized users by human mistake. 

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