What is Span of Control?

The term span of control means total number of employees who report to a manager. For example if a manager has a span of control of 5, it means 5 employees are reporting to the manager.

Certain organizations define their ideal span of control i.e. the number of subordinates a manager should have under his control. If the manager has a very less number, then it indicates that the manager is not being utilized fully.

The span of management can be either wide or narrow. Wide span of management will always result in a flat organization & a narrow span of control results in tall organizational structures.

An optimal span of control is influenced by various factors which are as follows:

  • The first & foremost factor is the nature of task which is performed in the organization. Whether the organization is influenced in a simple or complex task influences the span of control.
  • The next important factor is the organization size. In case of large organizations, more number of levels would be required for easy operation & control.
  • Personality of the members is also an important factor. There would be various types of employees working in the team. Hence it is always better to adopt a suitable span of control to ensure successful operation both within the team & also outside the team.

Meaning of Wide Span of Management:

In wide span of control, a single manager would supervise more number of subordinates. It is because of this reason the organizational structure would be wide or flat. Also the number of levels in the management will be less.

Meaning of narrow span of management:

The number of employees supervised by the manager will be less in this type. Hence the organizational structure will be tall or narrow in this case. The number of management levels will also be more.

" wide span of control "

Levels of Organization

Organizations generally have large number of people employed and placed at different levels to perform different managerial activities. To carry on these activities the employees are given necessary powers and responsibilities. This grant of authority results in creation of chain of authority. This chain is divided into three levels of management namely

  1. Top level of management
  2. Middle level of management
  3. Supervisory level, operational or lower level of management.

Top level of management consists of most of the executives of the organization, middle level consists of departmental heads and lower level consists of foremen, section officers, clerk.

" wide span of control "

Span of Control & Virtual Teams:

Technology has given rise to a number of virtual organizations these days. Virtual teams also known as geographically dispersed teams indicates the employees of a particular team located outside their organization or offsite. Though they are present outside their organization, technology plays an active role in connecting them with their members’ located onsite. The rise of virtual teams can be related with the concept of span of management.

Though the employees remain offsite, they are expected to obey the rules of the management & at the same time they also enjoy the freedom offered to them. This rule based approach paves way for large span of control.

Benefits of Wide Span of Management

Wide span of control has the following benefits:

  • Decision making: The wide or a flat organizational structure will always help in making quick decisions. This is because of few layers within the organization. As the number of layers is very less, the information would be shared fast which can help in instant decision making.
  • Cost: A flat structure requires very less managers in relation to the number of employees. Hence it is cost beneficial for the company to hire few managers.
  • Flexibility: The employees will enjoy more freedom under a flat management because of its microscopic nature.
  • Better communication: A flat structure can always help in better interaction. It would be always easy for the subordinates to communicate with their managers and also with their senior manager.
" wide span of control "

Limitation of Wide Span of Management

Wide span of management will face the following drawbacks:

  • Fewer opportunities: As the layers of organization are very less, opportunities for the employees to advance to the next level would be limited.
  • Performance: The number of managers to supervise their employees is less. Hence the employees may not perform up to the mark. Because of few managers, it would be difficult for the manager to monitor the individual performance and discuss with them their areas of improvement.
  • Relationship: Managers under a wide span may find it difficult to maintain a cordial relationship with his subordinates.
  • Discipline: Employees enjoy lot of freedom under this system. Hence they may be less disciplined.

Both the types of span of management have some advantages as well as disadvantages and it is not easy to determine the exact number of subordinates that are required under a single supervisor. Some studies suggest that the flat structure or wide span of management is more effective because of decentralized decision making and also the control always remains with the top level of management.

Why Managers use Wide Span of Control?

Control needs to be exercised by manager at the time when employees perform complex tasks or work which involves more significance. A supervisor can exercise a better control only if the environment is stable instead of a dynamic environment.

Managers use wide span of management because it gives them broad knowledge about the workforce under him. Also managers when using this system of management act as a single leader rather than man y leaders which help in avoiding confusion in the organization. Another reason for using a flat structure is that employees are given the authority in making their own decisions because of which managers can concentrate on some other manager tasks.

How to Implement a Wide Span of Control?

To implement a wide span of control, there must be a Theory Y type management attitude rather than a Theory X type within the organization. This type of organization will make the organization more efficient & also responsive to the needs of the customers.

Context and Application

This topic is significant in the professional exams for both undergraduate and graduate courses, especially for 

  • Bachelors of Business Administration (BBA)
  • Masters of Business Administration (MBA)

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