What is the Span of Control?
Span of Control can be defined as the total number of direct subordinates that a manager can control or manage. The number of subordinates managed by a manager varies depending on the complexity of the work.
For example, a manager can manage 4-6 subordinates when the nature of work is complex, whereas, the number can go up to 15-20 subordinates for repetitive or fixed work.
Meaning and Explanation
The term “Span of Control” is popularly used in business management and human resource management. Because this term is related to the management and controlling of employees, the meaning of the word is the total number of subordinates that a manager or supervisor can manage.
In the past, one manager was capable of managing 1-4 subordinates. Because of that, there were many levels of management in one organization. In 1980, with the introduction of information technology in business, many organizations flattened their management by reducing the number of managers in an organization. After that, the span of one manager increased from 1-4 to 1-10 subordinates.
This was possible because of inexpensive information technology. Technology helped in easing out several middle managers’ tasks such as collection and manipulation of operation information. Because of this, a manager became capable of managing more subordinates at one time.
Several factors affect the span of control of a manager, such as the nature of work, capabilities of the manager, capabilities of employees to be managed, and the responsibilities of a manager. It can be of two types, such as a narrow and a wide span of control. It is considered to be narrow when a manager manages 2 to 4 subordinates.
Advantages of a narrow span of control.
- The manager can supervisor each of his subordinates intimately.
- The nature of work is usually complicated.
- Effective communication between the subordinates and their manager.
- More layers in the hierarchy of management.
Despite many advantages, the narrow span of control is not free from disadvantages.
Disadvantages of a narrow span of control
- Too much control over employees might hamper their original talent and creativity.
- Extended hierarchy of control results in a long time in decision-making.
- Narrow span of controlling prevents cross-functional problem-solving.
On the other hand, a span of control is wide when a manager manages or controls up to 20 subordinates.
Advantages of a wide span of control.
- In a wide span of control, subordinates are more independent.
- Fewer layers in the hierarchy of management.
- The nature of work is repetitive.
- Less direct communication between subordinates and managers.
Disadvantages of a wide span of control.
- Ineffective management.
- Increased workload on managers.
- The roles of team members are not clearly defined.
- Less communication between managers and subordinates reduces the control of the manager.
In the next section, you will learn about the factors which affect the span of control.
The span of control means the total number of employees that a manager or superior can manage. Several factors are taken into consideration before allocating subordinates to a supervisor.
1. Type of work to be managed
The most crucial factor that affects the span of control and management skills of a manager is the type of work. If all the subordinates are doing the same job at the same time, then it is easy for a manager or superior to manage all employees at the same time.
For example, it is easy for a supervisor to manage 50 call executives at the same time because they are doing similar work at the same time. On the other hand, a professor can take two or a maximum of four students pursuing a doctorate.
The reason being is that all students work on different research topics, and the professor can’t manage all of his students at the same time.
2. Geographical distribution
If the branches of business are located at far geographic locations, then it becomes difficult for a manager to manage all the executives working at all the branches. Therefore, areas will be divided into clusters, and different managers are hired to manage each cluster.
In this way, each manager can effectively manage all employees working in small areas. For example, if a company has its branches all over the world, then all branches can be divided country wise and country managers can be hired to manage all people working in that area.
3. Administrative tasks performed by a manager
The span of control of a manager reduces if he is required to complete several administrative tasks daily. For example, an HR manager is required to conduct Face-to-face meetings with employees, prepare appraisal development plans, prepare job descriptions, conduct interviews of employees to be hired, preparing employment contracts, design policies, explaining changes in policies, discussing remuneration benefits.
All of these tasks require efforts at a manager’s end. Therefore, an HR manager can manage employees working in one office. Because of this reason, different HR managers are required in various branches of a company.
4. The capability of the Manager
An experienced manager with a good understanding of the work and having good relationships with employees can manage a higher number of employees. Whereas, an inexperienced manager with limited skills can handle a few employees.
5. Capabilities of employees
The span of control of a manager not only depends on the capabilities of a manager but also depends on the capabilities of employees to be managed. A manager, no matter how much experienced he is, can handle only a few inexperienced or new employees at one time.
Since employees are required to be trained to do their work efficiently, the manager is expected to spend a lot of time with each employee. As a result, it becomes difficult for a manager to manage many subordinates at one time.
On the other hand, a manager can manage fully-trained and experienced employees at the same time because he is not required to teach every small task to them.
6. Responsibility for other tasks
The span of control of a manager will reduce if he has duties of different jobs on his shoulders. That means he will be able to dedicate a limited time to manage his subordinates.
For example, a professor is not only required to handle and help his doctorate students, but it is also necessary for him to dedicate time to his research work and to take theory classes of other students.
7. Manager’s value addition
A manager who is also providing training and skill development classes will need a small span of control as compared to the manager who is exclusively managing his subordinates.
8. Type of business
The span of control of a manager also depends on the kind of business. Different types of business processes can reduce the span of control of a manager.
Let us understand the concept of span of control with the help of an example. A retail company hired Will as an inventory manager. He found that the employees are not designated in the organization, due to which it became difficult for him to do his job correctly.
Employees who were responsible for performing inventory control work were also responsible for doing the work of other departments. Because of this, it became difficult for him to do his work correctly and on time. Therefore, he took this matter to the upper management and suggested them to define the job role of each employee clearly and asked for a dedicated team for himself.
As a result of which he got a team of 3 employees who exclusively took orders for him and do the work related to the inventory control. By having explicit knowledge, he could do work in a better way and also on time. In this way, the performance of the whole inventory control department improved.