Span of Control means the number of subordinates that can be managed efficiently and effectively by a superior in an organization. It suggests how the relations are designed between a superior and a subordinate in an organization. Span of control is of two types:

  1. Narrow span of control: Narrow Span of control means a single manager or supervisor oversees few subordinates. This gives rise to a tall organizational structure.
  2. Wide span of control: Wide span of control means a single manager or supervisor oversees a large number of subordinates. This gives rise to a flat organizational structure.

There is an inverse relation between the span of control and the number of levels in hierarchy in an organization, i.e. , narrower the span, the greater is the number of levels in an organization.

Narrow span of control is more expensive as compared to wide span of control as there are more number of superiors and therefore there are greater communication problems between various levels of management. Wide span of control is best suited when the employees are not widely scattered geographically, as it is easy for managers to be in touch with the subordinates and to supervise them.

In case of narrow span of control, there are comparatively more opportunities for growth as the number of levels are more. The more efficient and organized the superiors are in performing their tasks, the better it is to have wide span of management. The less motivated and confident the employees are, the better it is to have a narrow span of management so that the supervisors can spend time with them and supervise them well. The more standardized is the nature of work ,like - if same task can be performed using same types of inputs, the better it is to have a wide span of management as more number of employees can be supervised by a single supervisor. There is more flexibility, prompt decision making, effective communication between higher level and lower level management, and improved customer interaction in case of wide span of management. Technological advancement such as internet, emails, mobile phones, etc. makes it easy for superiors to widen their span of control as there is more effective communication.

An ideal span of control according to modern authors is around 15 to 20 subordinates per manager, while according to the traditional authors the ideal number is around 6 subordinates per manager. In reality, the ideal span of control depends upon various factors, such as:

  1. Nature of an organization
  2. Nature of job
  3. Skills and competencies of manager
  4. Employees skills and abilities
  5. The kind of interaction that takes happens between superiors and subordinates, etc
Author's Bio: 

The author graduated from an Australian University and specialized in Human Resource Management. Span of control is one of the most important principles of organizing function. Author is the writer of which explains in details about the prganizing function of management.