Span of control refers to the number of employees that one manager supervises — the more employees he supervises, the wider the span of control. Businesses work to determine the optimal number of employees that managers can manage while still being effective in their other work. It helps to know the distinct pros and cons of a narrow and wide span of control.

Factors Affecting Span of Control

Managers do not spend all their time supervising employees, and they will ideally spend most of their work hours doing non-managerial activities. The number of people each manager can effectively supervise and still complete this other work in a timely manner depends on many factors. These include the types of jobs of his subordinates, the products being created, company management style, personalities and the size of the organization.

Low Management Needs

Certain situations require very little attention from management. Employees doing straightforward repetitive work usually only need contact with management for regular performance evaluations or if a specific problem develops, for example. Long-term, experienced employees usually do not need much management.

Some employees may work better if they are given more autonomy over their tasks and responsibilities with little supervision by management. These employees may benefit from having a hands-off manager who has a wide span of control.

Greater Management Needs

In contrast, some situations do necessitate more involvement from managers. Any time changes are made, whether in the type or amount of work, a decrease or increase in number of employees, a departmental merging or split or a change in the physical environment, employees need managers to help facilitate the change. In addition, managers typically need to work with new employees, though using experienced employees to help train new workers can make it easier to maintain a wider span of control.

Advantages of Narrow Span of Control

A narrow span of control provides better communication between managers and their employees and gives managers better control over their specific subordinates. Employees typically appreciate the chance to provide feedback to their manager, which is not as easy in a wide span of control. Also, supervising fewer employees generally requires less managerial skill.

Advantages of Wide Span of Control

A wide span of control is less expensive because the business employs fewer managers. With only one manager, or a manager with a supervisor or team leader in the hierarchy below, most employees are all on the same level and can work with each other with clear delegation of duties. Less supervision and control can create a more positive attitude among employees, who appreciate the extra trust and freedom.

Span of Control Analysis

When making a decision, carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of a span of control that is wide versus narrow. Although a wide span of control can save money, budget developers must be careful about cutting costs when it comes to management. Budget consultants tend to cut employees in middle management, but widening the span of control can create more problems than the cost savings is worth. Managers may begin to fall behind on deadlines or become unable to properly manage their employees because there is not enough time for each task.