Span of Management – Explore its Meaning, Important Types and Common Factors

Span of Management – Explore its Meaning, Important Types and Common Factors

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Syed Aquib Ur
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Senior Executive Content
Updated on Jan 19, 2024 12:23 IST

In business management practice, the span of management is also known as span of control, span of supervision, and span of authority. Find out the meaning, types, and factors that affect the span of management.

Span of management

In an organisational hierarchy, much goes on behind the relationship between managers and subordinates. When the number of subordinates increases, the manager may not be able to supervise them effectively. 

For any organisation to run successfully, there should be a limit to the number of subordinates who should be under one manager. This aspect can be understood better in terms of the span of management. 

What is Span of Management?

The span of management refers to the ideal number of subordinates who report to and are supervised by one manager. 

Also known as the span of control (SOC), it determines how many subordinates are able to provide maximum output without costing too much under one manager/supervisor.  

It also relates to the Unity of Command principle under Fayolism, which discusses that there should be one manager who should be providing guidance to subordinates. 

Without determining an optimal number, a manager may be unable to perform the controlling function. Likewise, coordinating, directing, etc., will also suffer. With that, the long-term plans suffer. 

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Types of Span of Management

There are two basic types when it comes to discussing the span of management. 

Wider Span of Management

It refers to situations when the organisational hierarchy consists of one manager and many subordinates. For this span of management type, the manager supervises many subordinates who are themselves skilled to conduct duties without much directing and controlling. 

Narrow Span of Management

This is the opposite situation, when there is more than one manager in an organisation to handle a few subordinates. One of the best advantages here is that the subordinates get thoroughly supervised and the manager can exercise their duties more efficiently. 

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How Number of Subordinates is Related to Organisational Structures

To recap, when there are many subordinates under one manager, the span of management is considered broader/wider. And if it is the opposite situation, the span of management is narrower. 

You can then assume that the span of management should be understood in a situational context. 

Do note, that the span of management or control relates to the subordinates reporting to a manager. Let’s see how subordinates and managers affect the organisation’s structure. 

Tall Structure

In a tall structure, there are less number of subordinates under managers. There are different levels of management that deal with a specific number of subordinates under each level. Here, a narrower span of management works. 

Tall structures have more managers and the scope of managerial work is more complex, and hence, the fragmentation. 

Flat Structure

There is not much hierarchy in a flat organisational structure. Here, a manager has to supervise subordinates who are more or less at the same hierarchical level. That also means the roles of subordinates are neither too varied nor complex. 

Factors that Affect Span of Management

Look into the most important factors that will help you understand the span of management in more detail. 

Manager’s Capability & Competence

The more competent the manager is, the more likely it is that they will be able to supervise more subordinates than a less competent one. Skilled managers are able to make better decisions that help not just the organisation, but also the professional growth of the subordinates. 

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Subordinate’s Capability & Competence

When the subordinates are not well-trained, it is ideal to have a narrow span of management. The reason is because the manager would have to spend more time to train them. 

On the other hand, the subordinates are highly skilled, the manager will not have to deal with intervening in every action taken by the subordinate. 

Nature & Complexity of Work

When the workload is repetitive, it does not matter how many of the subordinates are under one manager. It is essential to have a narrow span of management when the work is more complex and non-repetitive. 

Complete Supervision

Supervision when required is crucial. A manager should have the time to provide it to subordinates when they need it. A situation where the manager does not have the bandwidth to provide supervision is not ideal for the long term. 

Organisational Planning

It is essential to determine the span of management when planning is done on an organisational level. Planning should state how many subordinates should report to one manager and have some amount of contingency in case, the plan does not work out. 

Levels of Management

The span of management is directly related to the levels of management. When there are more levels, there is more hierarchy, which means it will be a narrow span of management. 

How to Identify the Right Span of Control

Identifying the right span of control is important in every organisation. Usually, the human resources department calculates the span of control ratio using the formula.

Span of Control = No. of employees / No. of managers

This is a starting point, though. Because there cannot be a predefined number to justify the right span of control ratio. Instead, the way to define it properly is by mapping how many ‘direct reports’ go to the manager. According to McKinsey & Company, there are five managerial archetypes that handle a varied number of reports based on the role.

  1. Player or Coach is for teams that do not have repeatable processes and require self-sufficiency that takes longer. The number of reports this managerial archetype gets is 3 to 5.
  2. Coach is for teams that have guidelines on processes but still require mentorship. Typically, the manager receives 6 to 7 reports.
  3. Supervisor’s responsibility is a little lighter than the first two. Individuals in the team have clarity on the processes with clear organisational guidelines. The supervisor archetype is there to help when they team members require understanding on specific activities which are not defined properly. The manager here receives 8 to 10 reports.
  4. Facilitator is one who only oversees daily, pre-defined activities. Such a manager can deal with more direct reports, about 11 to 15.
  5. Coordinator is for teams which are self-sufficient and the processes are clearly defined. This archetype receives more than 15 reports.


Parting Thoughts

Hopefully, you now know what exactly the span of management refers to. Check out some management courses to understand it better. 


What are the potential consequences of having a broad span of management in an organisation?

A broad span of management, or wider span of control, can result in challenges related to effective supervision and coordination. Managers overseeing many subordinates may find it difficult to provide individualised attention. That can negatively impact team performance, communication, and overall efficiency. Also, issues related to maintaining control and making timely decisions may arise.

How does the nature and complexity of work impact the choice between a narrow or wide span of management?

Tasks that are complex and non-repetitive often require a narrow span of management to ensure thorough supervision. Specialised skills and intricate problem-solving may be better managed with fewer subordinates under one manager, allowing for more focused attention on intricate tasks.

Are there any drawbacks associated with a narrow span of management in organisational structures?

While a narrow span of management offers advantages like thorough supervision, it can also present drawbacks. Having more managers in a hierarchy may lead to increased complexity. Sometimes that can slow down decision-making processes. Communication challenges might arise, and coordination across various managerial levels could become more complicated for efficiency. 

How does the concept of span of management align with different organisational structures, particularly in the context of tall and flat structures?

The concept of span of management is closely linked to the choice of organisational structure. In tall structures with multiple managerial levels, a narrow span of management is often preferred for detailed supervision. In contrast, flat structures, with fewer hierarchical levels, may opt for a wider span of management.

What considerations should organisations take into account when determining the appropriate span of management for their specific context?

When determining the optimal span of management, organisations should consider various factors. These include the capabilities and competence of both managers and subordinates, the nature and complexity of the work, the need for complete supervision, and the overall organisational planning.

About the Author
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Senior Executive Content

Aquib is a seasoned wordsmith, having penned countless blogs for Indian and international brands. These days, he's all about digital marketing and core management subjects - not to mention his unwavering commitment ... Read Full Bio