Understanding the Concept of Span of Control: A Comprehensive Guide
The span of control is a key concept in management that refers to the number of subordinates a manager is responsible for overseeing. This concept is critical in determining the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization’s management structure.
In this article, we’ll explore the characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of both wide and narrow spans of control.
Understanding the differences between the two approaches can help organizations make informed decisions about their management structures and improve overall performance.
What is Span of Control?
A span of control can be best defined as the number of subordinates a manager or supervisor is responsible for managing.
When a manager has a great number of subordinates, it is referred to as a wide span of control, while a smaller number of underlings is referred to as a narrow span of control.
The organizational structure of a company can significantly impact the span of control.
For instance, a tall organizational structure typically has a narrower span of control compared to a flat organizational structure due to the presence of more layers in the organizational hierarchy.
The span of control is crucial as it significantly impacts the overall effectiveness of a company’s management.
A wider span of control can lead to quicker communication between levels and improved decision-making, while a narrower span of control often results in heavier workloads for managers and the need for delegation.
Delegation can increase job satisfaction among subordinates and enhance collaboration between the manager and subordinates.
Categories of Span of Control
There are two main categories of a span of control:
- Wide span of control
- Narrow span of control
The most appropriate type of span of control depends on the organizational structure of a company, and each category has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Companies with flat organizational structures often adopt a wide span of control, where there are fewer layers between top and bottom levels in the hierarchy, resulting in a shorter chain of command.
Wide Span of Control
A wide span of control can be defined as a management structure in which one manager oversees a large number of subordinates.
This structure involves fewer layers and a shorter chain of command, making communication and coordination faster and more efficient.
In companies with a wide span of control, managers have a heavier workload but also more opportunities to delegate tasks to subordinates. This structure is commonly seen in younger companies with a smaller number of employees.
The Characteristics of a Wide Span of Control
The following are the characteristics of a wide span of control
- A wide span of control is a management style characterized by a single manager overseeing many subordinates.
- In a wide Span of Control, the organizational hierarchy is composed of a few layers, and the chain of command is short.
- The style of management in a wide Span of Control often results in a heavier workload for managers as they are responsible for overseeing many subordinates.
- A wide Span of Control encourages managers to delegate tasks to reduce their workload.
- A wide span of control is also known for its decentralized authority, as managers have trust in their subordinates to make decisions.
- A wide Span of Control is commonly found in young companies with a small number of employees.
Advantages of a Wide Span of Control
Faster Communication and Coordination:
One of the advantages of a wide span of control is that it enables faster communication and coordination. With fewer layers in the organizational structure, information flows quickly from the lowest level to the top level or vice versa, allowing for quick coordination and decision-making.
Another advantage is higher motivation. The delegation of decision-making to employees can lead to higher job satisfaction and motivation as they are more involved in the decision-making process.
Work flexibility is another advantage of a wide span of control. Managers delegate tasks to reduce their workload and place high trust in their subordinates to complete them effectively. This allows for greater work flexibility.
A wide span of control means that fewer managers are needed, reducing the cost for the company.
A heavy workload for managers encourages them to delegate tasks to their subordinates.
With more autonomy, employees have the freedom to manage their working life, leading to higher job satisfaction. They also have a better understanding of their job and can make more effective decisions.
Disadvantages of a Wide Span of Control
The following are the disadvantages of a wide span of control
Decreased Productivity in Wide Span of Control:
One of the potential drawbacks of a wide span of control is decreased productivity for managers.
This occurs because a wide span of control requires managers to manage a larger number of subordinates.
Not all managers are equipped to handle this additional workload, which can lead to decreased productivity and burnout.
Risks of Delegation:
Delegation is often viewed as a way to reduce the workload of managers. However, it can also lead to poor decision-making by employees.
Even if employees are experts in their field, they may not have the experience or expertise to make informed decisions. This can result in mistakes that can be difficult to rectify and negatively impact the success of the organization.
Loss of Control:
A wide span of control can also make it challenging for managers to maintain control over their subordinates.
When employees make decisions independently, there may be a lack of coordination and direction. This can lead to confusion and inefficiency and may require additional managerial intervention to guide the work of subordinates.
Faster communication is often cited as a benefit of a wide span of control.
However, the quality of communication may suffer as managers need to convey information to a larger number of people.
Additionally, not all subordinates may understand the messages in the same way, leading to misinterpretation and confusion.
Narrow Span of Control:
In contrast, a narrow span of control involves fewer subordinates per manager. This structure is often found in tall organizational structures with multiple levels or layers.
For example, in a company with three levels of authority, a division head may oversee three managers, who are each responsible for two subordinates.
Narrow Span of Control
A narrow span of control, on the other hand, refers to a management structure in which one manager oversees a smaller number of subordinates.
This structure involves many layers and a longer chain of command, leading to tight control but slower communication and decision-making.
In companies with a narrow span of control, managers have a lighter workload but also fewer opportunities to delegate tasks to subordinates. This structure is commonly seen in established companies with a larger number of employees.
Characteristics of Narrow Span of Control:
- Less responsibility for managers.
- Longer organizational structure with many layers.
- The lower workload for managers as they supervise fewer subordinates.
- Fewer delegation opportunities.
- Centralized authority with decisions concentrated at higher levels.
- Longer chain of command for decision-making.
- Common in established companies with large organizational structures.
Advantages of Narrow Span of Control
The following are the advantages of a narrow span of control
Increase in productivity.
One of the advantages of a narrow span of control is that managers have a smaller number of subordinates to supervise, enabling them to focus on the work more effectively and efficiently, which leads to an increase in productivity and better decision-making.
Another advantage of a narrow span of control is better decision-making. Here, managers have better control over their subordinates, allowing them to make informed decisions and provide guidance to their subordinates effectively.
A narrow span of control also promotes improvement in control. In other words, you have tighter control over your subordinates as a manager, ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goal and making decisions that align with the company’s objectives.
Communication between managers and subordinates is more effective because there are fewer subordinates to communicate with. This leads to better understanding and fewer misunderstandings.
Disadvantages of Narrow Span of Control
The following are the disadvantages of a narrow span of control
One of the disadvantages of a narrow span of control is that it leads to slower decision-making, i.e., it may take longer for information to reach the top level and for decisions to be made. The long chain of command involved in the decision-making process can slow down the process.
An increase in costs is another disadvantage of a narrow span of control. This is because the style of management encourages few subordinates per manager. And with fewer subordinates per manager, companies need more managers, leading to higher costs.
In a narrow span of control, the manager is less likely to delegate responsibilities to employees, reducing their autonomy and motivation, which is another disadvantage for the company.
Lack of flexibility.
Managers may be less likely to allow their subordinates to make decisions, reducing flexibility and creativity in the workplace.