What’s it: The span of control shows how many subordinates a manager is responsible for. When managers or supervisors have many subordinates, we call it a wide span of control. On the other side, if they have fewer subordinates, we call it a narrow span of control.
How wide the span of control is affected by the organizational structure. For example, a tall organizational structure has a narrower span of control than a flat organizational structure because it involves more layers in the organizational hierarchy level.
Why is the span of control important?
The span of control is important because it affects the company’s effectiveness in managing the company. For example, it impacts flexibility and communication within the organization. When the span of control is wider, communication flows more quickly between levels, enabling faster decision-making. In addition, organizations have fewer layers, so messages take less time to get from the lowest level to the top level or vice versa.
In addition, the span of control also affects workload and delegation. When managers have more subordinates to manage, their workload is heavier.
Thus, managers should delegate more because it is impossible to rely on themselves to make all decisions. Instead, they take part in more strategic aspects. Meanwhile, subordinates play a role in making less essential decisions.
Finally, delegation can lead to job satisfaction. Subordinates feel the manager trusts them, encouraging them to perform better. It can also lead to constructive feedback and better collaboration between them.
What are the types of the span of control?
The span of control is broadly divided into two categories: wide span of control and narrow span of control. Which one is the most appropriate? Unfortunately, there is no definite answer. Apart from depending on the organizational structure adopted, each category also has advantages and disadvantages.
Wide span of control
Wide span of control is common for companies with flat organizational structures. This is because fewer layers are involved between top to bottom levels. Thus, the chain of command is short.
For example, a company may have two levels of authority, namely only the director and the manager as division head. The manager supervises 6 employees. Each employee will be responsible and report to the manager, who in turn will report to the director.
Characteristics of a wide span of control
- More responsibility. One manager manages many subordinates.
- Short structure. The organizational structure involves a few layers.
- Heavier workload. Managers have to supervise many subordinates.
- More delegates. Managers may seek to reduce workload through delegation.
- Decentralized authority. Managers trust subordinates to make decisions.
- Less level of authority. Decision-making involves a short chain of command to get to the top level more quickly.
- Common in young companies. They have few employees, and therefore their organization size is small.
Advantages of wide span of control
Faster communication and coordination. Information from the lowest level gets to the top-level (or vice versa) faster because fewer layers are involved. It allows for quick coordination and decision-making.
Higher motivation. Managers delegate less essential decision-making to employees. It can lead to high job satisfaction and motivation as employees are more involved in making decisions about their work.
Work flexibility. Managers reduce oversight of their subordinates through delegation. And they place high trust in subordinates and are expected to act according to their expectations.
Lower costs. Managers supervise more people. So, companies need fewer managers and layers in the organizational structure.
More delegates. The span of control is wider, and the manager is responsible for more subordinates. Indeed, it makes their work heavier. 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.
Disadvantages of wide span of control
Decreased productivity. Managers manage many subordinates, and not all managers have the quality to do so. That can place a heavier workload, lowering their productivity.
Bad decision. Delegation allows employees to make decisions. However, they may not be good decision-makers even though they are experts in their fields. In the end, they may make the wrong decision.
Losing control. It is difficult to control all the subordinates. Bad decisions by employees can stress managers out. In addition, individual decisions may not be well-coordinated and tend to be random and undirected. Finally, it requires more managerial intervention to guide, increasing the manager’s workload.
Less effective communication. Communication messages may arrive faster, but the quality may be poor. That’s because managers need to convey it to a lot of people. And not all understand; each may have its own interpretation.
Narrow span of control
Under a narrow span of control, managers have fewer subordinates to supervise. This is common in tall structure companies involving more levels or layers.
For example, a company has three levels of authority: directors, division heads, and managers. The division head oversees three managers. Meanwhile, the manager is responsible for two subordinates.
Characteristics of narrow span of control
- Less responsibility. One manager manages a few subordinates.
- Long structure. The organizational structure involves many layers.
- Less workload. Managers have to supervise and manage a few subordinates, leading to tight control.
- Fewer delegates. Managers may try to make decisions independently and delegate less to employees.
- Centralized authority. Decisions are concentrated at higher levels, where the higher the level, the higher the decision-making power.
- Longer levels of authority. Decision-making involves a long chain of command, so it can be slower to get to the top level or vice versa.
- Common in established companies. They have many employees, and therefore the size of their organization is large.
Advantages of narrow span of control
More control. Managers can supervise better because they supervise fewer subordinates. In addition, to reduce tighter supervision, they may use a more personal approach, which is more likely to be done with fewer subordinates.
Better productivity. The manager’s workload is less due to supervising fewer subordinates. In addition, decision-making is distributed over more layers. That should lead to higher performance and productivity.
Better decision. Managers take a more dominant role in making decisions than employees. Thus, they can make better, more coordinated decisions than delegating them to employees.
More effective communication. Fewer subordinates allow for higher quality communication and feedback. As a result, managers can more effectively convey messages to or accommodate their aspirations.
Disadvantages of narrow span of control
Lowers morale. If managers supervise too closely, it can demoralize employees. A personal approach may be effective in some cases to prevent that. But, not all managers have the quality to do it.
Greater cost. Companies need more managers to supervise fewer employees. Thus, it consumes a larger cost.
Slower communication and coordination. Communication quality may be good under a narrow span of control. But, it can take more time to get from the lowest to the top-level (or vice versa) because it has to go through many layers. As a result, decision-making at the top level tends to be slow.
What to read next
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- Downsizing: Importance, Reason, Type, Pros, Cons
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