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Span of Management or Span of Control

Span of management, also known as ‘span of control’, refers to the number of people a manager directly manages. In a wider span of control, a manager has many subordinates who report to him. In a narrow span of control, a manger has fewer subordinates under him.

In a classical type of organizational structure, which is the most common form, the effectiveness and efficiency of operations is determined by the number of people under direct supervision of a manager. For most effective operations, it is necessary to have the optimum number of subordinates to supervise.

The informal groups have a significant impact on the span of management. If the supervisor has cordial relations with his subordinates and the subordinates are dedicated to their work for professional as well as social reasons, then more subordinates can be assigned to each supervisor and less managerial time will be needed to deal with the subordinates.

Obviously , the number of subordinates that can effectively be managed for supervision and delegation of authority would be finite and depend upon a number of factors. Some of these factors are:

Similarity of Functions: If the subordinates are involved in the same or similar activities, then it is possible for the manager to supervise more subordinates. Since the problems that may arise would be similar in nature, these would be easier to handle. Conversely, if these subordinates are involved in diversified operations, the situation would be more complex and hence the span of control would be narrow.

Complexity of Functions: If the operations that the employees are performing are complex and sophisticated and require constant supervision, then it would be more difficult for the manager to manage too many employees and hence a narrow span of control would be desirable.

Geographical Closeness of Employees: The closer the subordinates are to each other in a physical location, the easier it will be for the manager to manage more employees.

Direction and Coordination: The span of control would also be determined by the degree of coordination required, both within the units and with units in other departments. If the units need continuous directions and extra time of managers in coordinating these activities, then fewer subordinates would be better supervised.

Capacity of Subordinates: Subordinates who are well trained, professionally developed and experienced, need little supervision in discharging their duties. In such situations, more subordinates can be effectively supervised. These subordinates can further be assisted by providing them with ‘standing plans’ that ore applicable in repetitive operations and routine recurring problems, thus requiring less supervisory assistance.

The Working staff of the Manager: If the manager has a supporting staff that is equally skilled in handling situations, then it would be possible to manage a wider span of control because the responsibilities of supervision would be shared.

The optimum number of subordinates under any one manager would vary and directly depend upon the type of relationship between the manager and subordinates, not only on a one-to-one basis but also with subordinates as groups, taking into consideration the cross­ relationships among the employees themselves.

Based upon the intricacies of these relationships, Lyndall F. Urwick  concluded, ‘No executive should attempt to supervise directly the work of more than five or at the most six direct subordinates whose work interlocks.‘ This is considered as ideal because too wide a span would put a heavy burden on management in ineffective guidance and control and too narrow a span would mean under utilization of managerial capacity, ability and resources.




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About Sonia Kukreja

I am a mother of a lovely kid, and an avid fan technology, computing and management related topics. I hold a degree in MBA from well known management college in India. After completing my post graduation I thought to start a website where I can share management related concepts with rest of the people.