Span of control: Everything you need to know

Span of control: Everything you need to know

Many businesses pursue the idea of locating and employing a single ideal universal span of control. They believe there is a magic number of workers a manager can oversee to achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Well, there is no one magic number that fits all types of managers and their work. McKinsey discovered this through decades of assisting the world’s top firms in their redesign efforts. They advised that focusing on a single number can hinder effectiveness.


Using benchmark or peer comparison methodologies, some practitioners have tried to determine the correct figure for each business. While a peer-benchmark method may sound appealing, McKinsey’s analytical findings and experience show that it frequently creates additional difficulties. This is by zealously implementing structures that support the strategy of other businesses.

The top-down assignment of managerial range of control ignores the specificity necessary to create something appropriate for the environment. It doesn’t consider how each team and department should carry out its tasks. But it is key in order to achieve its overall performance and health goals. This article offers a useful explanation of the span of control. You will comprehend the fundamentals of this potent management and leadership philosophy after reading.


What is span of control?

What is span of control?

Span of control is the total number of direct subordinates that a manager can manage or control. Depending on how sophisticated the work is, a manager may oversee a different amount of employees. It is all about the number of workers who directly report to a management or superior.

Span of control is one of the pillars of management theory. When examining an organization, HR professionals frequently try to determine the average span of control. The organization can use this estimate to determine whether or not it needs to begin a management recruitment process.

Without defined levels of authority to manage the workflow, organizations cannot operate. They have a variety of hierarchical levels built into their structure, including various management levels. There are several variables that might affect management and the effectiveness of the company. Completing tasks slowly due to a lack of personnel is one thing. However, the business may also suffer from having too many employees. It is crucial for managers to think about how effectively their sphere of influence operates.

How to calculate span of control

Average span of control can be calculated using the formula below:

Span of control = total number of direct relationships a manager has with their staff * the total number of managers

The number of subordinates a manager has determined how much control over the organization they have. These subordinates are workers who are not only informally under the manager’s supervision. But who also have a working arrangement in which the boss makes the executive decision.

Examples of span of control

Examples of span of control

An organization has more layers of administration the bigger it gets. Consequently, a hierarchy develops. A department’s multiple employees have one superior. Some departments may only have ten personnel, while others may have over one hundred. In both situations, a breadth of control is present to effectively manage every organizational tier.

A manager with five subordinates would have a span of control of five. Businesses strive to put into place the optimal span of control. This is mostly dependent on the work being done. A particular range of control may be perfect for one firm while being impracticable for another.

For instance, when the nature of the work is complex, a manager can oversee 4-6 subordinates. Whereas the number can increase to 15-20 subordinates for repetitive or fixed work. The terms span of control and span of management are interchangeable.

Factors affecting span of control

Factors affecting span of control

There are several factors that affect span of control and some of these include:

  • The capacity of the superior: Different leadership capacities and communication styles have an impact on how subordinates are managed. Therefore, the superior’s experience and expertise are very important. This can also stretch to their personality and people skills.
  • The capacity of subordinates: Effective and well-trained employees have an impact on the management team’s scope. Thus the employees’ experience, expertise and behaviour towards each other.
  • Nature of work: Different management styles are required for various sorts of job. This is because the nature of work and the complexity of the assigned tasks also has an influence.
  • Degree of centralisation or decentralisation: The extent of management is impacted by the degree of centralization or decentralization by the level of engagement of the superior in decision-making.
  • Degree of planning: Plans that may offer guidelines and instructions for carrying out the task will have a greater management scope.
  • Communication techniques: The style of communication, its channels, and media have an impact on the amount of time needed to manage subordinates and, as a result, the management span. Thus the level of communication, delegating, and interaction.
  • Use of staff assistance: Utilizing staff support to lighten managers’ workloads allows them to supervise a greater number of subordinates.
  • Supervision of others: if the subordinate is also overseen by someone other than his direct boss. In this scenario, the direct superior’s workload is lightened and he has more people to manage.
  • Geographical distribution: The management of all the executives working at all the business’s branches becomes challenging if the branches are spread out over large geographic areas. In order to manage each cluster, a different manager will be hired to manage each area after it has been divided into clusters.
  • Type of business: The type of business has an impact on a manager’s area of responsibility. Different business process types can limit a manager’s scope of control.

Types of span of control

There are two types of the span of control:

  1. Wide span of control
  2. Narrow span of control

Which choice is the best? Unfortunately, there isn’t a firm answer. In addition to the organizational structure, each group has benefits and drawbacks. These two types of span of control are discussed further below.

Wide (flat) span of control

Wide span of control

Companies with flat organizational structures frequently have a wide breadth of control. This is due to the fact that there are fewer layers between the top and bottom levels. The chain of command is therefore short.

For instance, a business might have two levels of power, the manager serving as the division head and only the director. The manager is in charge of six workers. Every worker will be accountable to the manager, who will then report to the director.

Characteristics of a wide span of control

  • Greater accountability. Many employees are managed by one manager.
  • Brief in structure. There are various layers to the organizational structure.
  • Increased workload. Many employees must be under the management of managers.
  • Additional delegates. Managers might use delegation to lighten the load.
  • Decentralized power. Decision-making by subordinates is trusted by managers.
  • Lower degree of authority. A short chain of command is used in decision-making to reach the top level more rapidly.
  • Common in start-up businesses. They have a small organization because they just have a few staff.
  • Low supervision overhead costs
  • Prompt responses from employees
  • Improved supervision
  • Improved coordiantion
  • Suitable for repeated tasks

Advantages of wide span of control

  • Greater Authority Delegation Promotes Manager Development
  • Simple Policies
  • When there is a broad range of control, the underlings are more independent.
  • The managerial structure has fewer levels.
  • It works well when the work is repetitive.
  • Less direct communication exists between superiors and employees.
  • It is economical.
  • Suitable for larger businesses
  • Reduced planning time, well-trained subordinates

Disadvantages of wide span of control

  • Those in charge are overworked.
  • Loss of control by superiors;
  • Need for highly qualified managers of staff;
  • Poor decision-making
  • Inadequate management.
  • The workload of managers has grown.
  • The responsibilities of team members are not specified.
  • Managerial control is reduced when bosses and employees communicate less.
  • The subordinates are confused.
  • The management will be challenging if the number is substantial.
  • A licensed superior is necessary.
  • At scales under that, the delegation of authority may be problematic

Narrow (tall) span of control

Narrow span of control

When managers scope of authority if restricted they have fewer employees to keep an eye on. This is typical of businesses that build big structures with multiple levels or tiers.

The three tiers of authority in a firm, for instance, are directors, division heads, and managers. Three managers report to the divisional manager. The manager is in charge of two employees concurrently.

Characteristics of narrow span of control

  • Less accountability. A single manager oversees a number of employees.
  • Extended form. There are numerous layers to the organizational system.
  • Reduced workload. Few subordinates require supervision and management from managers, which results in strict control.
  • Less delegates. Managers could strive to make decisions on their own and give workers fewer responsibilities.
  • Centralized power. At higher levels, where decision-making capacity increases with level, decisions are concentrated.
  • Longer periods of power. It can take longer to reach the top level or vice versa when making decisions because of the lengthy chain of command involved.
  • Common in reputable businesses. Their company is huge since they have a high number of personnel.

Advantages of narrow span of control

  • Teams with fewer members can converse more quickly.
  • Smaller groups are simpler to lead and control.
  • Has a lot of specialization and division of labor.
  • Greater and better opportunities for worker progression.
  • Each of the manager’s employees is directly under his or her control.
  • The nature of labor is typically complicated.
  • Effective communication exists between management and subordinates.
  • The management system has many levels.
  • Management is simple.
  • Control over management has enhanced.
  • Effective management

Disadvantages of narrow span of control

  • Employees’ natural talents and originality may be stifled by an overly controlling environment.
  • When the hierarchy of control is expanded, decision-making is slow.
  • Cross-functional problem solving is hampered by the narrow scope of control.
  • The cost increases when more managers are hired.
  • More layers of organizational management
  • Information transmission taking longer than expected
  • Delay in decision-making

Why is span of control important?

It is crucial to consider the span of control idea in relation to the hierarchical levels of the organizational structure. The length and height of the organizational structure are particularly relevant characteristics, as they are:

  • Organizational structures can be narrow (with a smaller span of control) or vast (with a smaller span of control.)
  • An organization may be tall (with many levels) or flat depending on the number of management or hierarchical levels it has (with fewer levels.)

The breadth of control is significant since it has an impact on how well the organization manages the business. For instance, it affects communication and flexibility inside the business. Wider spans of control allow for more rapid communication between levels, which facilitates quicker decision-making. Organizations also have fewer levels which reduces the time it takes for signals to travel. This is the case from the lowest level to the highest level or vice versa.

The span of control also impacts the workload and delegation. The workload of managers increases as the number of subordinates increases. Because it is hard for managers to make all the decisions, they should delegate more. This will give allow them to participate in more strategic activities instead. In the meantime, subordinates contribute to less critical judgments.

Last but not least, delegating can increase job satisfaction. When employees feel their manager has confidence in them, they work harder. Additionally, it may result in more positive criticism and improved communication between them.

Wrapping it up

The number of employees allocated to work under a manager or supervisor has an impact on workflow. In management, this is also directly influenced by the span of control. In order to build the organizational structure, define direction, and exercise control effectively and efficiently, a manager or supervisor needs to have a sufficient responsibilities span.

FAQ of span of control


How can I calculate the span of control?

Span of control is the number of subordinates that each manager has. We determine this figure based on the total number of full- or part-time managed heads. Therefore, someone in charge of 12 part-timers still has 12 subordinates under their supervision, not the same as six full-timers.

What is the average span of control for my whole organization?

Although this is a good place to start, it is merely a stepping stone to comparisons with other organizations, such as those in the same industry or for internal departmental comparisons. According to contemporary organizational experts, there should be 15 to 20 subordinates for every supervisor or manager in an organization. This serves as the framework for a control span that is manageable. 5–6 subordinates per manager or supervisor, on the other hand, is what some experts with a more conventional orientation consider to be optimum. The average span of control calculation uses the ratio of management nodes to population.

What is the trends with a span of control?

Widening the scope of control has become popular in recent years as a means of lowering costs, accelerating decision-making, enhancing flexibility, and empowering staff. However, in order to prevent possible issues with broad spheres of influence, businesses must invest in managers’ and workers’ education as well as in technology that facilitates information exchange and improves communication. There is no one magic number that fits all types of managers and their work, McKinsey has discovered through decades of assisting the world’s top firms in their redesign efforts. Pursuing a single number can make it less effective.

What are the direct span and indirect span of control?

A manager’s direct span of control is the number of direct reports they are responsible for. How far up the chain of command a manager’s direct reports report to them is known as their indirect span of control. A manager, for instance, would have a 10-person indirect span of authority if they had 10 direct reports. The manager’s own direct reports are included in the direct span of control, although they are not in the indirect span of control. The direct span of control will typically be bigger than the indirect span of control in most situations.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a high span of control?

High control spans give a number of benefits. They give managers the ability to react swiftly to shifting circumstances, make decisions using the best available data, and offer chances for developing new abilities. Additionally, middle managers get to know their direct reports well, which improves their ability to support their professional growth. The drawback is that managers frequently experience stress due to the sheer number of obligations and tasks. They could struggle with time management or effective delegation. Additionally, when performing at a high level, managers frequently divert their attention from their own priorities to try to comprehend what others are doing.

How does a company determine it span of control?

Companies utilize a variety of techniques to choose the right span of control for a given circumstance. To determine how many workers directly report to each manager, surveys are sometimes facilitated. Others combine surveys, observations, and interviews. Others, however, set the appropriate span of control using their knowledge and common sense.

Span of control: Everything you need to know
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Span of control: Everything you need to know
Span of control is the total number of direct subordinates that a manager can manage or control depending on how sophisticated the work is.
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