Definition: The span of control in management suggests estimating the optimum number of subordinates managed by a single supervisor. It is a primary factor that determines the shape of the organization. It involves all the management activities in the business than just supervision and control.
The levels of management are created based on the span of control expressed by comparing managers with employees. It depicts the organization’s size and workgroups.
The span of control can interchangeable termed as:
- Span of Management
- Span of Supervision
- Span of Authority
There are two types of span- wide and narrow span of control, determined by the manageable number of personnel under one senior. It differs under different circumstances based on variables like:
- Degree of autonomy granted to employees
- Number of layers in organization structure
- Nature of work
- Need of supervision, etc
Note: The flatter organization has a wide span of control, whereas the taller organization has a narrow span of control.
Content: Span of Control in Management
- Graicunas Theory
Types of Span of Control
Generally, two types of span can be seen in organizations that are:
- Wide span of control
- Narrow span of control
Wide Span of Control
When one manager supervises many subordinates, it shows a wide span of control. It is also called Operative Span as it is generally applicable at the lower or operating managerial level. The wide span involves simple working and leads to a flatter organizational structure. The organizations large in size go for a wide span of control.
It involves less operating cost and is highly adaptive to the changes. The supervisors have excellent coordination and communication horizontally & vertically because of the fewer levels.
Advantages of Wide Span of Control
- Cost-effective in nature
- Suitable for large organizations
- Effective communication within the organization
- Reduced Planning time
- Results in the flatter organizational structure.
- Well trained subordinates
Disadvantages of Wide Span of Control
- Confusion among the subordinates
- Difficulty in management if the number is considerably large
- Requirement of qualified superior
- Delegation of authority may be difficult at lower levels
Narrow Span of Control
When one manager manages a few subordinates, it shows a narrow span of control. It is also called the Executive span because it is applicable at the top or middle managerial level. Organizations opt narrow span when the nature of work is complex and requires more assistance from the superior.
A narrow span contains fewer subordinates at a single level. It results in an increased number of management levels making an organization taller in structure.
Advantages of Narrow Span of Control
- Ease in management
- Improved control of management
- Effective Supervision
- Suitable for work complex in nature
- Creativity in planning and decision making
Disadvantages of Narrow Span of Control
- High cost as more number of managers are appointed
- Increased levels of management in the organization
- Delay in communicating information from top to bottom
- Delay in decision making
Importance of Span of Control
- Discipline: By specifying the span of control at every management level, stakeholders can create discipline within the organizations.
- Motivation: Motivation is a crucial factor that keeps the team going. One can motivate its workforce through the span of control by providing guidance and feedback at regular intervals.
- Timely Decision Making: Many small or big business decisions have to be taken at every hierarchy. The determination of the span of management helps in timely decision making.
- Effective Control: Control is an essential principle of management. The span of control is used to achieve effective control over the business.
- Communication: Business communication is how individuals interact within the business. To attain effective communication, the organizations use the span of control. It eases the communication flow and sends information to the lower levels of management.
Factors Affecting Span of Management
- Adequate Supervision: The managers’ span should be determined to achieve adequate supervision. The employees who need more guidance can be placed under a narrow span.
- Nature and Complexity: If the nature of work is complex and requires more focused supervision, one should opt for the narrow span of control. Organizations can use a wide span of management if the nature of work is less complex and repetitive.
- Organizational Planning: The span of management is one of the critical factors of corporate planning. It clarifies the reporting relationships among superiors and subordinates in the organization.
- Degree of Centralization: The degree of centralization and decentralization in the organizations has different numbers of subordinates working under a single superior. The centralized organizations have a narrow span of management and vice versa.
- Geographic Proximity: The scattered organization’s results in a narrow span as supervision is required at every location. If the organization is located on a single premise, the organization can use a wide span of management.
- Stability: The organizations running for a long term generally have a wide span, as their goals are clearly defined, and the nature of work is known to all.
- Effective Communication: Specified span of control can result in effective communication in the organization. It reduces confusion, and communication takes place through a proper channel.
- Qualification of Manager: The span of control largely depends on the capability of the manager or superior. If the superior is more qualified, he can handle more numbers subordinated under him, whereas if he is less capable, he can only supervise a few subordinates under him.
- Delegation of Authority: Appropriate delegation of authority may be achieved by defining the number of subordinates at each management level.
- Management Levels: The greater the number of management levels, the narrower the span of management. The lesser the number of management levels, the wider the span of control.
Graicunas Theory of Span of Control
Traditionally theorists suggested that ideally, one executive can handle three to eight subordinates. The experts disagree with this recommended number of associates and believe it cannot be specified and varies based on the situation.
In 1933 a French management consultant V.A Graicunas identified several relationships between an executive and its associates. In his theory, he suggested a mathematical formula to ascertain the geometric increment in the number of relationships with an increase in the number of subordinates under a single supervisor.
He pointed out three types of relationships:
- Direct Single Relationships
- Direct Group Relationships
- Cross Relationships
Direct Single Relationships
It shows the number of direct individual relationships with the subordinates. The number of relationships equals the number of subordinates under a superior.
Formula: Direct Single Relationships = Number of subordinates (n)
For example, a manager ‘P’ has three subordinates, R, S and T.
The direct relationships between them will be as follows:
- P with R
- P with S
- P with T
Three direct relationships exist between them.
Direct Group Relationships
It depicts all possible relationships among the superior and his subordinates.
Formula: Direct Group Relationships = n(2(n-1) -1) or n(2n/2-1)
Based on the example given above, the number of direct group relationships will be:
= 3(2(3-1) -1)
Following will be the relationships between P, R, S and T:
- P with R in the presence of S
- P with R in the presence of T
- P with R in the presence of S and T
- P with S in the presence of R
- P with S in the presence of T
- P with S in the presence of R and T
- P with T in the presence of R
- P with T in the presence of S
- P with S in the presence of R and S
It shows the interpersonal relationships between the subordinates under a single executive. The subordinates also interact with each other in the organizations. The conflicts and issues between them must be taken care of by the superior heading them.
Formula: Cross Relationships = n (n-1)
The cross-relationship in the above example will be:
Six cross relationships between P, R, S and T are as follows:
- R with S
- S with R
- S with T
- T with S
- R with T
- T with R
The total number of relationships which can exist under an executive can be calculated using the formula given below:
Total Relationships = n(2(n-1) + n – 1) or n(2n/2 + n – 1)
The total relationships for the preceding example will be:
= 3(2(3-1) + 3 – 1)
= 3(22 + 2)
According to Graicunas, a supervisor must thoughtfully increase his span. The complexity and number of relationships increase with every addition, which may become challenging to manage. He also prescribed that a manager can manage up to 222 relationships under him, which means his span of control will be 6. One can effectively manage 6 subordinates under him.
The span of control in Coca Cola is narrow, creating a tall organizational structure. They have 1 superior over every 3-5 employees.
The number of employees that a manager can effectively control implies the span of control in management. Depending upon the situation and need, organizations can use a wide or narrow span of management.
There is no predetermined number of subordinates a superior can manage. It largely depends on the various factors discussed above. It is observed that large organizations have both wide and narrow spans within the same organization. The top and middle levels possess a narrow span, whereas the lower level includes a wide span of control.