What’s it: A chain of command is a formal line for defining authority, communication, and responsibility between positions within a company. It is depicted in an organization chart. And, it tells us who is responsible and reports to whom. Thus, we can identify the relationship between superiors and subordinates in the organizational structure.
Some companies adopt a shorter chain of command. It allows them to communicate and make decisions faster because it involves fewer layers. And it also leads to more delegation.
But, it also carries risks. Managers may lose control of their subordinates because they have more subordinates to manage. In addition, delegation can lead subordinates to make mistakes if they are not properly trained. They might be experts in their field but are not good decision-makers.
Why is the chain of command important?
The chain of command describes how authority, decision-making power, and responsibility are distributed and flow within the company. It eliminates overlap in decision-making, where each position has a well-defined role.
In addition, employees are responsible and can give priority to their work. They understand who they should report to and from whom they should carry out orders and instructions.
All orders and instructions must flow through the command line. So when they get an assignment from senior management but it’s not in their line, they have good reason to turn it down.
Then, employees know who they are expressing their aspirations to or asking for support and encouragement. For example, when they face a work problem, they know what to do, whether to handle it themselves or leave it to their superiors for decision making.
So, if executed properly, the chain of command allows the organization to be more effective. That results in clarified relationships, less confusion, and more coordinated decision-making.
What are the three elements of the chain of command?
The chain of command contains three aspects:
Under a hierarchical organizational structure, authority and responsibility flow vertically, from the highest to the lowest. And higher levels have greater authority and responsibility. Then, communication also flows through these lines.
The relationships between these levels – and the three aspects – are visualized on a chart to identify superior and subordinate relationships. For example, a hierarchy level might involve front-line managers, middle-level managers, and top-level managers.
Top-level managers have the highest authority and are responsible for the other two levels. Front-line managers are responsible and report to middle-level managers, who in turn report to top-level managers.
What is the difference between the chain of command and the span of control?
The chain of command outlines the pathways for decision-making and authority. Meanwhile, the span of control shows how many subordinates are under the responsibility of a manager.
For example, a company has four mid-level managers, each in charge of six front-line managers. The reporting relationship between the two positions is the chain of command. Meanwhile, how many subordinates under each middle-level manager – six people -that’s the span of control.
How long the chain of command is and how much span of control depends on the organizational structure. Companies with a tall organizational structure will have a long chain of command and a narrow span of control. The opposite applies to flat structures. Thus, the longer the chain of command, the narrower the span of control.
What are the advantages of a short chain of command?
There is no right organizational structure for all companies. For example, some companies may have a flatter structure with a shorter chain of command. They remove some positions – called delayering -because they are considered to hinder effectiveness. A shorter chain of command provides several advantages, including:
Faster decision-making and communication. Communication through fewer levels. Thus, messages can reach the intended person quickly, enabling quick decision-making. On the other hand, a long chain of command slows down communication because it involves more layers.
Deeper relationship. Top managers are closer to the lowest hierarchy because there are fewer layers. So, they can relate more intimately. Finally, they can make decisions faster and better because they are closer to the problem’s source.
Then, employees at lower levels feel cared for by top managers. So, they should be motivated and eager to do their best.
More delegates. The span of control is wider, and the manager is responsible for more subordinates. Indeed, it makes their work more and more. But, on the other hand, it should encourage managers to delegate more because it is impossible to do all the important work on their own.
Job satisfaction. With more delegation, employees can make more decisions on their own. It can be more effective because they understand the problems in their job better than the manager. Combined with more autonomy, they have the freedom to manage their working life, leading to higher job satisfaction.
What to read next
- Levels of Hierarchy: Definition and Brief Explanation
- Chain of Command: Importance, Element, Advantages
- Span of Control: Importance, Types, Advantages, Disadvantages
- Delegation in Management: How it Works, Advantages, Disadvantages
- Accountability: Importance, Examples, Components
- Centralization: Importance, How it Works, Determinants, Pros, Cons
- Decentralization: Importance, Advantages, Disadvantages
- Bureaucracy: Importance, How it Works, Advantages, Disadvantages
- Delayering: Importance, How it Works, Strengths, Disadvantages
- Downsizing: Importance, Reason, Type, Pros, Cons
- Authority: How It Works, Sources, Types, Examples
- Organizational Chart: Importance, Features, and Types