Organizational Units and Google Groups: Key Differences

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Google Groups and Google Workplace Organizational Units (OU, for short) are two closely interrelated core parts of your organization’s system administration. Both forms of grouping your users have their advantages and disadvantages that might affect your decision on choosing the right option

What is Google Groups?

Google Groups is a convenient platform mainly focused on email group communication. It simplifies the overall process of communication between departments, teams, and more.

Google Groups are best known for allowing you to use a single email address for a whole group of people. The feature has a number of use cases that can drastically affect your internal and external communication:

  1. Save time by sending group emails (one address for multiple users).

  2. Enable quick communication with your teams.

  3. Organize events conveniently within seconds.

  4. Empower collaboration between your teams and departments.

  5. Share content with multiple users in your organization within a moment.

  6. No need to worry about growing your organization and rotating positions. 

On top of that, there is a Google Groups for Business that provides several additional features, including more thorough group management and the option to manage access to applications, documents, calendars, and media.

What are Google Workspace Organizational Units?

Google Workplace Organizational Units are known to be a hierarchical grouping feature that is developed by the super admin of an organization. Each OU can have a specific set of permissions and settings. Super admins can set up OUs based on roles or even apps. On top of that, they allow you to create teams, departments, etc.

This way, for instance, you can provide your Marketing OU with access to Google Analytics, Google Ads, and so on. For other Organizational units, you can set up restricted Google Drive, so that the sensitive files can be hidden from other OUs.

How to find the Admin app and Google Groups in your Gmail

What is the key difference between Google Organizational Units (OU) vs. Google Groups

Even though both Google Organizational Units and Google Groups are closely interrelated, they are still pretty different in their functionality and, in some way, they complement each other and expand their features.

Organization units build your organizational hierarchy. At the same time, Google Groups provide you with an option to customize them without changing your organizational structure. Here it should be pointed out that users can belong to only one OU, but the number of Groups is not limited. Thus, while OUs are used for broad organizational structure, groups’ primary purpose is specific adjustments.

Key differences

  • Settings configuration can only be performed through the Organizations control panel

  • On Google Groups you can turn on your services that will override the organization settings

  • You can turn the services on or off depending on your needs only on your Admin Platform, while Google Groups only allows you to turn them on

  • Google Groups is compatible with the limited number of services (Google Workspace core and additional apps)

  • Organizations’ control panel gives you a full set of applications adjustments

  • Google Groups allows you to include external users, while on Organization control panel you can only add and customize internal users

  • Automatic user licensing works only on the Organization control panel

How to create Google Organizational Units (OU)?

Creating a new Organizational Unit in Google Workspace is not the most complicated task to perform. Follow the steps to set it up:

  1. Open a six-dot app menu in the upper-right corner of your Gmail

  2. Scroll down and locate the Admin app (NOTE: You must have the Admin privilege to see the app)

  3. Open the ‘Directory’ in the dropdown on the left

  4. Go to ‘Organizational Units’

  5. In the opened page click on ‘Create organizational unit’

  6. Fill in the required information: Name of organizational unit, Description

  7. Hit ‘Create’ and your OU is ready!

NOTE: Make sure you have correctly selected ‘Parent organizational unit’.

Why you need Google Organizational Units (OU)

Google Organizational Units provide a huge number of advantages to your business allowing you to create a thoroughly customizable hierarchy. However, two main advantages are ‘Context-Aware Access’ and ‘User Service Control’

User Access Based on Context

The biggest advantage of Google Organizational Units is their ability to adjust to the specific context. For instance, you can set up the tool to provide access to only a determined number of applications depending on a location or a device that’s being used.

This sort of selective security policies can give you more flexibility in terms of access management. To enable Context-Aware Access, you have to do the following:

  1. Open the dropdown menu on the left

  2. Click on ‘Show more’ at the bottom of the list

  3. Find and hit ‘Security’ below ‘Apps’

  4. Open ‘Access and data control’

  5. Locate ‘Context-Aware Access’ and enable it by clicking ‘Turn on’

  6. Create access level for your needs

Using the features you can enable such requirements as Device policy enforcement, IP address enforcement, etc. However, you need to keep in mind that you do not need to restrict your users from using communication tools like Gmail since most users today rely on mobile devices, especially during their out-of-office hours.

Users Service Control

Another convenient feature that is powered by Google Organizational Units is the ability to turn on or off selected services for the determined groups of your organization. Some departments might not need the use of some Google Tools or any other applications from Google Workspace Marketplace.

This way, for example, you can have Search Console enabled for your marketing team only and turn it off for everyone else, or enable Google Earth for your research department. The number of use cases is pretty immense, so it is about your company’s needs and requirements, to set it up do the following:

  1. Open the dropdown menu on the left

  2. Locate ‘Apps’

  3. Click on ‘Overview’

  4. Select the app group that you would like to customize

  5. On the left of the app list, you’ll see your Organizational units

  6. Select the Organizational unit you would like to edit

  7. Locate the apps that you would like to disable for the selected Organizational unit

  8. Hover on the app and click three dots on the right of the app

  9. Click ‘ON (Override)’ or ‘OFF (Override)’

Should I use Organizational Units or Google Groups?

Both Organizational Units and Google Groups are tightly interdependent. However, you must understand that they serve different purposes. While Organizational Units allow you to build a sophisticated organizational hierarchy, Google Groups is a simpler tool, whose purpose lies in optimizing organizational communication. 

We suggest that you look into the use of both platforms. This will allow you to deeply customize almost everything to your needs. On top of that, your OUs get synced with your Google Groups. You don’t have to create all the groups from scratch.  

How should Google Organizational Structure look like?

Google Organizational Structure is supposed to reflect hierarchy of your company. The traditional corporate hierarchy has employees at the bottom, middle management above them, and upper management at the top of the hierarchy. 

How to set up organizational structure in Google Workspace

When it comes to forms of structures Google Workspace Organizational Structure you need to stick to creating parent OUs and further child OUs, e.g.: Marketing (parent OU)>SMM (child OU 1); SEO (child OU 2); Advertising (child OU 3). This way by creating separate parent OUs for each department you will be able to develop a comprehensive hierarchical structure of your company with deeply customizable permissions.

Tips for Using Google Organizational Units

To make the best out of your Google Organizational Unit experience you need to keep in mind:

  • The thoroughly structured employee hierarchy will significantly affect the efficiency of your company’s organization

  • You can adjust the service settings for users in organizational units

  • Your users can only be in one OU, in order to make more flexible changes use Google Groups

  • Google OUs serve as a tool for broad organizational adjustments

  • Google Groups has a huge number of flexible functionalities which makes it relatively difficult to control, choose reliable Group owners

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