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“Span of control” is a silent yet critical factor for any organization.
There are times when employees feel like their work is not appreciated. The supervisor may be of little help, or the employees feel detached from work. It can happen due to a lack of supervision or control.
Here is where the “span of control” becomes a necessary factor.
Organizations look at the span of control in terms of supervision level, management size, and type of management structure.
It determines how much control managers have over subordinates. Also, it indicates how much associates affect management decisions.
In this blog, we will discuss the definition of the span of control and how it can help managers with better governance and satisfaction among employees.
We will also discuss factors determining the optimal span for leaders to ensure organizational effectiveness.
What is the “span of control”?
The management span, also known as the span of control, is the number of subordinates a manager can effectively direct. It is a cornerstone of management theory and involves centralizing decision-making to one point. It helps employees feel accountable and motivated and allows the manager to provide supervision of multiple projects.
Furthermore, it also involves empowering lower-level employees to make decisions. By decentralizing authority, employees develop their full potential and become more confident.
Human resource management plays a determining role in the managerial span. The capacity of subordinates to handle the workload and the degree of delegation of authority can affect the optimal span of supervision.
A manager with many subordinates may have less time to devote to each one. It leads to reduced productivity affecting employee experience. Proper planning and effective delegation of authority can help alleviate these issues, allowing managers to handle several direct reports.
Finally, the span of control is a key factor when analyzing a company’s HR structure. It helps determine how much supervision employees need, whether they should report directly to the manager or work under the supervision of others, and how many organizational levels there should be.
5 Factors to Determine Optimal Managerial Span of Control
Several factors determine the optimal span of control for managers. Let’s discuss these Five critical factors.
#1 – Employee Competence and centralization
The span of control for most organizations is typically three to five levels, with 15 to 20 subordinates per supervisor or manager. However, the optimal span of control varies on employee size, company culture, and the nature of the work.
Generally, organizations use a span of management between 1 and 4 employees per manager to ensure effective supervision.
However, in larger organizations, a wide span is in effect to minimize operating costs is cost-effective. For example, large firms usually reduce staff costs by reducing the number of reports that need to be written or handled by one manager.
We see this happen in the form of layoffs.
However, modern management practices suggest that spans of control range from 1 to 20 employees per manager. It allows managers to tailor their supervision to unique employee skills and abilities.
For example, a supervisor may have one subordinate who handles all routine reports and another specializing in strategic planning and business development.
By having various staff members covering different functions within the organization, managers can maximize the competence of their employees while also reducing operating costs.
#2 – Managerial Experience and delegation
The optimal span of control for a managerial role includes the type of work the team performs.
More often, managers with more direct reports are more engaged than those with fewer subordinates.
In business management, staff assistance is essential to handle many subordinates. Organizations like McKinsey provide staff personnel to assist managers in routine job tasks and repetitive decisions.
It allows managers to focus on more complex managerial tasks that require leadership skills. With proper planning and support, a larger span of control can be feasible, resulting in a more efficient and effective organization.
Additionally, experienced managers typically have a wider span of control than novice managers. It is because of experience and knowledge a manager has accumulated over time that can be applied more effectively to manage subordinates in a wide span of control setting.
#3 – Organisation Structure and supervision
Span of control is the number of subordinates a manager has under direct supervision. The optimal span of control typically falls between 15 and 20 subordinates per manager. Larger organizations tend to have wider spans of control than smaller ones.
It is due to the increased number of subordinates that such organizations must oversee and the need for more experienced management within such large organizations.
Additionally, the company culture can influence the span of control, with a more relaxed and flexible culture associated with wider spans. Also, a hierarchical and controlling culture may require managers to oversee fewer subordinates.
Routine and low-complexity jobs/tasks normally require less supervision than inherently complicated or loosely defined jobs. They need frequent decision-making.
If an organization has a flat structure with few levels of hierarchy, a larger span of control may be appropriate. However, if an organization has a more complex hierarchy structure, a smaller span of control may benefit.
Overall, the optimal span of control varies by organizational structure and depends on factors such as the job tasks involved and the company culture.
Use this Company Culture Calculator to check how good is your company culture.
#4 – Communication Technology in organization
Organizations can maximize the effectiveness of their employees by engaging them in multiple tasks and roles. As technology has evolved, organizations have increased the number of people reporting to a single manager or supervisor.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, organizations were able to test this theory and were fairly successful in managing employees using communication technology.
However, that may not be optimal for every business. Factors like the nature of work done by an employee will play a role in determining the optimal span of control.
Overall, communication techniques has allowed organizations to engage employees in multiple roles and tasks while at the same time reducing overall management overhead.
#5 – Level of autonomy (Decision-Making ability)
Organizations must have the right span of control to be effective and efficient.
For example, teams with a lot of decision-making authority may require a higher span of control than teams that only do routine tasks. In addition, managers of experienced and independent staff can manage them more effectively than managers of novice staff.
However, organizations should aim for an optimal span of management that balances efficiency with complexity and ensures that each team is adequately supported. It will help improve organizational performance and foster strong team morale.
Optimal Span of Control Guideline: Finding the Perfect Fit for Your Organization
|Size of Team||Nature of Work||Optimal Team Size||Hierarchy Type||Formula |
(# of employees)
Optimal Span of Control Guideline
- Size of Team: Refers to the number of subordinates reporting to a single manager.
- Nature of Work: Refers to the complexity of the work being performed.
- Optimal Team Size: Refers to the number of subordinates a manager can effectively supervise based on the team size and nature of work.
- Hierarchy Type: Refers to the organizational structure, which can be either tall (many levels of management) or flat (few levels of management). The optimal span of control is narrower in tall organizations and wider in flat organizations.
- Formula: Optimal team size estimate. The values provided are estimates and can vary depending on the specific organization and context.
Some additional parameters that you may want to consider – Skill sets, Timeframe, Resources, Communication.
Benefits of Having an Optimal Subordinate Span of Control
An optimal span of control (SOC) is the optimal number of people and tasks a manager has authority over.
Here are some benefits you will see with the optimal span of control.
- Improved Efficiency
- Better Communication
- Greater Employee Autonomy
- Better Delegation of Tasks
- Reduced Costs
- Improved Innovation
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An optimal span of control ensures organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Also, it helps improve communication, task delegation, innovation, and costs. Ultimately, this will lead to improved performance and improved morale.
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