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Span of Control

What is Span of Control?

The span of control shows the number of subordinates reporting to a manager. This concept is also known as management ratio. For example, a 1:10 ratio shows that ten employees report to one manager. This concept holds significant importance in different organizational structures adopted in the military, government bodies, educational institutions, etc.

The concept of span of control was developed in the UK in 1922. However, it keeps revising with time to suit the latest trends & needs.

Ideal Span of Control

It was talked about by Sir Hamilton in his business review titled “Is there a Right Span of Control?” in 2004. He assumed that the manager’s time & energy are scarce resources. Also, the ideal span of control should be 3-6 subordinates as a rule of thumb.

Many organizations figure out their ideal span of control or the fixed management ratio. It shows the ideal number of employees that a manager can take effective reporting from, at a given point in time. A span of control can be wide or narrow.

Wide Span of Control

When the ratio of a manager is to subordinates is high, say 1: 20 or 1: 15, and so on. A manager, handling such a long list of employees, gets motivation & a sense of a good position. However, too many subordinates reporting to once a single manager may cause stress to the manager.

Narrow Span of Control

Here the management ratio is low. A few numbers of employees report to one manager. That is to say, 1:3 or 1:5. The manager can take a personal interest in the work done. He can closely monitor the growth & development of each. In this case, if reporting heads are very less, the manager may feel his skills are under-utilized.

Implications of Span of Control

Implications are measured based on the average span of control. It shows that, on average, how many ‘subordinates per manager’ are there in an organization. The average span of control impacts the company’s time to make a decision. It determines the width & height of the structure. Also, it affects the cost structure. The taller the structure, the costlier it becomes.

A wide span of control makes the structure flat. On the contrary, a narrow span of control makes the structure Tall.

Let’s understand through the following images:

Figure 1: Flat organizational structure

Flat organisational structure - Wide span of control

Figure 2: Tall organizational structure

Tall organisational structure - Narrow span of control

Wide Span of Control

This indicates that there are fewer levels in the organization. Further resulting in the relatively flatter structure. As shown in Figure 1.

Advantages

Decision Making

It leads to quick decision making. Due to fewer levels, fewer approvals are required. Thus, management can respond to the issues faster.

Bureaucracy

Due to lesser levels, bureaucracy is reduced. Hence a positive atmosphere prevails in the organization.

Development

The lower levels are prepared to become future managers as they report directly to competent higher authorities.

Coordination

Coordination becomes easy. As a number of people take orders from the same person, there is less misunderstanding regarding who does what.

Reduced Costs

Fewer management layers reduce the costs of compensation.

Flexibility

The employees are not bifurcated into specific teams or sub-teams. They have to do all the tasks together. This makes them flexible in the long run.

Motivation

The manager feels motivated as he in charge of many people. The employees feel motivated when they work in larger groups; the social needs get satisfied well.

Disadvantages

Training Managers

A manager has to be dynamic and flexible. He has to work under pressure of being responsible for the work of many people. Sometimes this requires training. As a result, time, energy, and money are invested in it.

Technological Support

To handle larger teams, technology is a factor required for smooth coordination. This will be discussed in detail in the factors of the Span of control below.

Chaos

There are chances that in larger teams, there may be mismanagement or miscommunication. This may lead to chaos.

Disputes

The more the people involved, the more will be the viewpoints. The perceptions do not match all the time. The chances of disputes increase.

Oversight

While handling such a large team, there is a fair chance of overseeing some issues or errors.

Span of Control

Narrow Span of control

This indicates that there are more levels in the organization. Further resulting in the relatively taller structure. As shown in Figure 2.

Advantages

Clarity

When a manager has fewer people to handle, he is in personal contact with each one of them. He is clear about the roles & responsibilities of each.

Organized Structure

Things are pretty organized with regard to who has to do what, who reports to whom, etc. when there are few people to handle.

Departmentisation

The business which requires different departments for different tasks can adopt this structure. The benefit of specialization can be availed.

Disadvantages

Expensive

The salaries of managers are high. More managers lead to more remuneration expenses.

Communication

The communication between managers becomes difficult. As they are at the same level, ego clash & other issues persist.

Bureaucracy

As the levels increase, there is more bureaucracy as each decision passes through every level of organization. More people have access to key information.

Factors to Span of Control

There are many factors that decide what should be the span of control. For instance, if we talk about real-life examples, Riverside, a high-end School, has the teacher to student ration of 1:26. On the other hand,  low-cost schools may have a ratio of 1:50  to 1:60. Less number of students in a class is one of the USP’s (Unique selling point) of Riverside school. TCS – Tata consultancy service,  has a narrow span of control with team structure handling each project separately.

Some of the factors affecting the Span of control are,

Proximity of Subordinates

If the subordinates are far from each other geographically, it is difficult for a manager to be in regular contact with them. Thus, a manager can oversee only a few employees. As a result, the span has to be kept narrow.

Job Complexity

Some jobs have ambiguity in the job or are complex & need dynamism. In other words, these jobs require more guidance and direction from the manager. A narrow span is advisable here.

Employee Ability

If the employees are well educated, reliable & know their work, a manager has to not oversee them from time to time. Otherwise, when employees lack ability, they require constant motivation; the manager has to spend more time on each employee and hence, can handle fewer employees. However, training can solve this problem.

Similarity of Subordinate Jobs

Routine tasks are similar in nature. They require less managerial interference & a wide span can be effective. Whilst, differentiated works or specialization needs to be monitored. This results in a narrower span.

Managerial Ability

Organized managers are better at explaining things to the subordinates. They can function effectively in wider spans. When they are not in such a position, the span has to be kept narrower.

Technology

There are various communication tools available for coordination amongst the organization. They help in smooth functioning. For instance, Cell phones, Email, Intranet, Instant chat rooms, Peer to peer networks, etc. tools help the exchange of information. Those who do not have access to such tools have to keep their span narrow for better functioning.

In conclusion, the span of control depends on many factors and varies from organization to organization. Some organizations have a hybrid structure wherein they adopt a wider span and build internal teams with narrower spans. This helps them avail of the benefits of both. Above all, it empowers them to customize the span of control according to their needs & utilize the resources optimally.

Last updated on : December 16th, 2019
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