Span of Control

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The Span of Control refers to the number of subordinates a manager or supervisor can effectively manage. This concept is important in the design of an organization's structure. Simply, span of control refers to the number of subordinates under a manager’s direct control. For example, a manager with five direct reports has a span of control of five. Span of control is a good metric to assess the efficiency of an organization, as long as it looked at in the context of the company’s organizational structure.[1]

There are two types of spans of control:

  1. Wide Span of Control: If a manager has several subordinates reporting directly, they have a wide span of control. In a more flat organizational structure, there are fewer levels of management, which can encourage more direct communication between management and employees and foster a more inclusive, collaborative work culture. However, managing more employees can increase a manager's workload and potentially dilute the level of attention and guidance they can provide to each individual.
  2. Narrow Span of Control: If a manager has a small number of subordinates, they have a narrow span of control. In a more hierarchical organizational structure, there are multiple layers of management, which can create more opportunities for career advancement and allow managers to provide more focused supervision. However, a hierarchical structure can also result in slower decision-making processes and limit direct interaction between top management and lower-level employees.

The appropriate span of control for any given situation depends on a variety of factors, including the complexity of tasks, the competency of both the manager and the employees, the nature of the work being performed, the level of interaction required between employees, and the degree of internal and external environmental uncertainty.

In the history of management theory, early proponents of scientific management such as Frederick Taylor suggested narrower spans of control. In comparison, later theorists and trends have sometimes favored wider spans to reduce costs and increase employee autonomy.

For example, a highly skilled project team working on complex tasks might benefit from a narrow span of control, with a knowledgeable manager providing close supervision and guidance. Conversely, a large team of experienced sales representatives might function effectively with a wider span of control, since the tasks are relatively independent and the employees can work autonomously.

See Also


  1. Defining Span of Control Org Chart Pro