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Span of Control in Management: Definition, Disadvantages & Advantages

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  1. 0:01 What Is a Span of Control?
  2. 0:32 What Are the Implications of…
  3. 2:47 What Is the Optimal Span of Control?
  4. 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Carol Woods

Carol has taught college Finance, Accounting, Management and Business courses and has a MBA in Finance.

Span of control in management has implications for work flow, communications, and opportunities for promotion in a company. Read on to learn what it is and how it impacts a company's results.

What Is Span of Control?

Span of control is simply the number of staff that report to a manager. Some companies also have an ideal span of control, which is the number of reports they feel a manager can effectively manage. In this case, if a manager has fewer reports than the ideal, they may feel he or she is not being effectively used, while if he or she is handling more they may feel that the manager is over-stretched and the reports will not receive enough direction.

What Are the Implications of the Span of Control?

The span of control of the average manager in an organization determines the width of the organization, as seen when viewing the organizational chart. Fewer reports to the average manager will result in a taller organizational chart, with more management positions relative to the number of individual contributors. A higher number of reports to the average manager will result in a flatter or wider chart, with fewer management positions relative to the number of individual contributors.

The average span of control will also impact the company's time to make decisions and cost structure.

Higher average span of control means fewer layers of management within the organization, and a relatively flatter organizational structure. This can lead to:

  • Faster decision-making due to fewer levels of approvals required for a specific decision, which allows the company to respond more quickly to business issues.
  • Better and more frequent communication between higher-level managers and staffers, so the staff is more knowledgeable about company goals and the higher-level managers are more knowledgeable about daily operational issues faced by staff.
  • Reduced costs relative to a taller organization, since there are fewer management layers needing compensation.

Lower average span of control means relatively more layers of management within the organization and a relatively taller organizational structure. This can lead to:

  • Fewer opportunities for promotions, since there are fewer management positions in the company.
  • The concern that manager input will be relatively harder for staffers to obtain, and managers will have less time to focus on specific decisions. Employees will need to be relatively more self-motivated and independent in their work style due to having less manager input.
  • Important strategic decisions by the company will have relatively less time spent on them, due to the reduced time available to focus on individual decisions. This can lead to less-than-optimal responses to business opportunities and threats.

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