A manager's span of control refers to how many employees that manager supervises. A manager with a wide span of control supervises many employees, while one with a narrow span supervises just a few. A wide span of control can have positive or negative effects, or a mix of both, depending on how the business is structured and how the manager handles supervisory duties.
Number of Employees
There are no specific numbers that define a wide or narrow span of control, as these can be relative to the size of the organization. For example, in a company with 5,000 employees, a manager who supervises 30 people could have a relatively narrow span of control. In a company with only 100 employees, though, supervising 30 of those would be a relatively wide span of control.
Direct vs. Indirect Control
A manager with a wide span of control is directly responsible for the employees under him. For example, a floor manager in a factory supervises all of the employees working the production floor during his shift, which may be a wide span of control, depending on the number of employees. However, that floor manager's supervisor probably has a narrower span of control. That supervisor most likely controls several floor managers, but the production floor employees do not report directly to that supervisor, so they are out of her span of control, even if her decisions affect them indirectly.
Benefits of Wide Control Spans
A wide span of control gives a manager a broader knowledge of the workforce. It also gives more workers a single contact person to go to for information and leadership, which can eliminate confusion. Decisions can be made more quickly because there are fewer levels of management that must relay information down to the workers. Employees may also be given more opportunities to make their own decisions and solve problems on their own, due to the manager's attention being needed elsewhere.
Weaknesses of Wide Control Spans
Wide spans of control also mean less personal contact, so a manager may not be able to identify problems in the workforce before they grow into larger difficulties. Employees who need the manager may find him unavailable, which can lead to work not getting completed on time -- or growing frustration among employees.