The Slice

 [Guide] How to Use Breakout Rooms on Zoom and Teams

April 28, 2023

Breakout rooms are a great way to increase engagement, create opportunities for creative and in-depth discussions, and otherwise provide the chance for some old-fashioned team building. Let's dive in and look at what you need to know about breakout rooms and how you can use them in your next team meeting.

Breakout rooms are a great way to increase engagement, create opportunities for creative and in-depth discussions, and otherwise provide the chance for some old-fashioned team building.

Of course, all of the benefits of breakout rooms start going down the drain if navigating the software becomes a complex, time-consuming, and ultimately frustrating experience.

Luckily, using breakout rooms in Zoom and Microsoft Teams is pretty simple once you get the hang of it.

Let's dive in and look at what you need to know about breakout rooms and how you can use them in your next team meeting.

What Is a Breakout Room?

On both Zoom and Microsoft Teams, you can separate attendees into smaller groups in what are known as "breakout rooms."

This allows all attendees to participate in a smaller, more intimate discussion before returning to the primary meeting.

Why Should You Use Breakout Rooms in Virtual Meetings?

Large virtual meetings are an incredible tool for modern businesses, but it's also easy for participants to feel lost in the shuffle when there are so many other attendees.

If you want to ensure that everyone can get the most out of their meetings, feel valued as a participant, and be fully engaged during the virtual event, breakout rooms are a tool you'll want to use.

1. To Address Topics That Were Missed in Discussions With the Whole Group

When you're holding a meeting or event with a large group, it can be difficult to find the time to get into the details of specific topics or even to touch upon all of the relevant subjects. Breaking into smaller groups can allow for conversation around topics that could have been missed in the main meeting.

The agenda for large meetings has to be fairly strict; otherwise, very little progress can be made. However, in smaller breakout rooms, attendees have the time and space to really dig into specific topics that interest their breakout group. Beyond that, individuals have more opportunities to contribute comments, questions, or thoughts on the manner.

2. To Help Make Attendees Feel More Comfortable Participating

Speaking in front of a large group of people can be nerve-wracking for anyone, and some might feel particularly uncomfortable speaking up in a meeting with dozens of participants.

Breaking up into smaller groups allows everyone to discuss the topics at hand in a more natural-feeling environment. 

3. To Hold Attendees More Accountable

It isn't uncommon for bigger companies to host meetings that have hundreds of participants, which can make it very easy for attendees to get lost in the crowd. It also makes it hard to know whether or not individuals are engaged with the content of the meeting and can drown out the opinions and perspectives of less tenured employees.

People become much more accountable for contributing to the meeting in smaller groups. Not only does it encourage everyone to bring their thoughts to the floor, but it also helps to boost engagement.

4. To Allow For Creative Discussions

Though large meetings can be a great way to communicate essential information to a bunch of people at once, they don't tend to leave a lot of room for creativity and innovation.

Allowing participants to break off into smaller groups makes the soil much more fertile for truly creative discussions.

5. To Create Space For Department-Specific Topics

Finally, breakout rooms are also great when you want to divide the participants into their departments to discuss topics that fit within their purview.

This can be particularly useful when departments or teams want to take some time after a large meeting to go over the significant points that were made and how they impact their own particular projects, systems, tasks, and approaches.

How to Use Breakout Rooms on Zoom

Using Zoom, you can create and assign breakout rooms before a meeting begins or once it is already in progress.

You can break your virtual meeting up into fifty different sessions. How participants are split into these groups can occur automatically or manually by the meeting host or co-host. Participants can also be pre-assigned to breakout rooms, so you don't have to take care of this business while the meeting is actively happening.

The host or the co-host can move between each breakout room and keep an eye on the activity occurring in each room. In addition, all capabilities participants are allowed in terms of audio, video, and screen sharing available in the main session are also allowed in breakout rooms.

To create a breakout room in Zoom once you start a meeting, click the "Breakout Rooms" icon. You can then choose how many rooms you want to make and how participants should be assigned to each room. There are four different ways that participants can be placed in rooms:

  • Automatically: Zoom will divide up the participants into the rooms.

  • Manually: The host or co-host can choose which room each participant will be in.

  • Allow each participant to choose: Each attendee has the option to choose which room they want to enter.

  • Load pre-assigned rooms: The host or co-host can select from previously saved assignments or pre-assignments.

Next, all you have to do is click "Create." Though the rooms have now been made, they don't automatically start. There are several different options for managing rooms before the meeting begins, including:

  • Allowing or disallowing attendees to choose the breakout room they want to participate in.

  • Allowing or disallowing participants to move back to the main meeting whenever they choose.

  • Automatically closing the breakout room after a set number of meetings, with an option to be notified when the breakout room time has ended.

  • Setting a timer to count down how much time is left in the breakout rooms.

Are you interested in recording your Zoom meetings to keep them as a reference or so others can view them after the event? This guide covers three ways to record a Zoom meeting with audio.

How to Use Breakout Rooms on Teams

If you want to create sub-meetings within your Microsoft Teams meeting, you can do so either before or during your meeting. Creating a breakout room in Microsoft Teams is easy:

1. Start Teams meeting.

2. Select the "breakout rooms" icon in the Teams desktop client on the control bar.

3. Select the number of rooms you want to create using the dropdown menu (you can make up to fifty in one meeting!)

4. Choose between automatic vs. manual breakout room selection (determines whether attendees are divided equally between rooms or you choose which attendees are in which rooms.)

5. Click the button "Create Room" to open the breakout rooms pane.

6. Once you're ready for the breakout sessions to begin, choose "Start rooms."

Once you hit "start rooms," the attendees will be moved into their assigned breakout room automatically. You can move participants back into rooms after leaving by choosing the ellipses next to their name and clicking "Ask to join."

If a few stragglers show up late to the meeting, you can select "Assign participants" to add them to the breakout room after the meetings have opened.

In Microsoft Teams, you can also pick out specific presenters that will be "managers" for each breakout room. Breakout room managers can join any rooms, add and delete rooms, open and close rooms, assign and reassign people to rooms, send announcements, set time limits, and recreate rooms.

Appointing managers is something that can be done before or after the meeting. To do so before the meeting, open up the meeting invite on your Teams calendar and select "Room settings" in "Breakout rooms." You can then toggle on the "Assign presenters to manage rooms" option and choose "Search for presenters" to track down the individuals you want to be managers. From there, you can select "Go to Meeting options to add presenters" if no one has been designated as a presenter yet.

To do this during the meeting, choose "Breakout rooms" in the meeting controls and then "Room settings." You can then toggle on the same "Assign presenters to manage room" option.

Before you schedule your next virtual meeting, check out our post about Zoom fatigue and how to combat it.

Helpful Breakout Room Tips

Before signing off, we want to leave you with some additional tips to help you make your next breakout room sessions the best yet.

Give Clear Instructions

Splitting up into smaller groups can be a seriously awesome way to have everyone participate in activities and productive discussions. But, at the same time, you have to remember that some participants might not be familiar with the feature in either Teams or Zoom. You'll therefore want to ensure you share crystal clear instructions for the participants.

Beyond that, you can put together the activities you want to occur in each room along with their purpose and intended outcome to share with participants before the meeting begins. This allows everyone to prepare and be fully engaged during the sessions.

Are you wondering how to minimize background noise, distractions, and chatter during large or small group meetings? Then, make sure you take a look at our guide to muting participants in Zoom meetings.

Give Your Co-Hosts the Navigation Knowledge They Need

If you're running a meeting with co-hosts, you'll want to make sure they are all well-versed in operating breakout room sessions. This includes how to join the breakout room and leave and go back to the main session.

Also, depending on the co-host's level of knowledge and skill, doing a dry run before the actual meeting or event could be useful.

Consider Automatic Grouping

It can be tempting to manually break up groups rather than letting the software do it automatically, and, in some cases, this will make sense (such as breaking up by department, etc.)

If you don't have a good reason for manually grouping people, though, it can create unique and interesting outcomes when Zoom or Teams creates groups for you. Not only does this save you a ton of time, but it can also lead to interactions and ideas that are outside of the box and creative.

Allow Access Through Different Devices

To ensure that everyone in the meeting can navigate the breakout rooms, it's a good idea to include instructions for accessing breakout rooms on mobile devices.

This can help create a smooth flow during the meeting and ensure that no one is floundering trying to figure out how to navigate the space between the breakout rooms and the main session.

Using the Waiting Room/Lobby Features

The waiting room/lobby features offered by Zoom and Microsoft Teams are quite useful, as it lets participants chat a bit before they end up in their breakout rooms.

It can also be useful to make an extra room for facilitators and co-hosts, which lets participants return to the main room without the hosts when the breakout sessions are still occurring.

Do you feel like your team members are always disengaged, no matter when you host your meeting? Then, check out our post about the best time of day for remote Zoom/Teams meetings.

Ready to Make Your Next Meeting the Best One Yet?

At PizzaTime, we are all about helping remote teams bond. Of course, breakout rooms can be a great way to let everyone chat or dig into a more in-depth discussion, but we can't help but feel like there's a little something missing from this picture.

What is it, you ask?


After all, if you picture a virtual meeting with pizza and a virtual meeting without pizza, it becomes abundantly clear that one sounds much better than the other. Not only does everyone have delicious pizza putting a big smile on their faces, but they're also more engaged, have higher morale, and create valuable memories with their team despite the distance between them.

If you're concerned about ordering pizza from cities worldwide to send each meeting participant their share of the pizza party spoils, don't worry. At PizzaTime, we specialize in catering to remote teams in every corner of the globe.

Does that sound good to you? If so, you can start planning your pizza party today.

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