Span of Control is very simply the number of subordinates that report to a manager. In the span of control example below we could say that the IT Manager has a span of control of 3, as they have 3 subordinates reporting to them.
All organizations have layers. The number of layers an organization has will depend on the size of the organization and also the span of control of the average manager within that organization.
If managers within an organization typically have many reports then the organization chart will be flatter and wider. In this scenario, there will be fewer management positions relative to the number of total employees. Conversely, if managers within an organization have a smaller span of control this will create an organizational chart that is narrower and taller. In this scenario, there will be more management positions relative to the number total employees. This is illustrated in the following diagram highlighting the difference between tall and flat organizations.
Each individual manager will also have two dimensions to the team they manage:
Sometimes an organization will define their ideal span of control. This is the number of direct reports that managers within the organization should ideally have. If a manager has less than the ideal number then the organization may consider that the manager is not being exploited to the best of their ability.
There is no right or wrong answer as to whether a large or small span should be used within an organization. It will depend on doing what best suits the organization in question, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Here are some factors both managers and organizations should consider:
In describing the advantages of a large span of control, we essentially need to describe the advantages of a shallow or flat organizational structure:
Here, we essentially need to describe the disadvantages of a flat organizational structure:
In describing the advantages of a small span of control, we essentially need to describe the advantages of a tall organizational structure:
Here, we essentially need to describe the disadvantages of a tall organizational structure:
A virtual team (also known as a Geographically Dispersed Team (GDT)) is one where team members are located offsite, and work either individually or as part of a small team. Technology is used to keep team members connected and on the same page. The rise of virtual teams causes us to take another look at our understanding of span of control.
Here, information defines the rules subordinates must obey, but they can be completely autonomous within these rules. This rule-based approach provides the potential for really large spans of control. This trend towards an increasing number of direct reports mirrors the trend that has been in place over the last 100 years, whereby in the early 20th century spans of control were small but by the late 20th century they were much wider, resulting in much flatter organizations.
Span of Control is very simply defined as the number of subordinates a manager within an organization has reporting to him or her. Within an organization, taller organizational structures are relatively more expensive than flatter and wider organizational structures due to the increased number of managers required. However, a smaller span of control gives much more control over the work of subordinates.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong span of control, and it is up to each organization to find the right balance for itself based on a number of factors.
The 5 Levels of Leadership: Book Summary
Three Levels of Leadership Model
Blake Mouton Managerial Grid
Bureaucratic Theory (Max Weber)
Path-Goal Theory of Leadership
Situational Leadership Model
Fiedler’s Contingency Theory of Leadership
Tannenbaum-Schmidt Leadership Continuum