Span of Control
Meaning, Definitions, Factors and Approaches
Meaning of Span of Control
Span of control is also known as span of management or span of supervisor and span of authority. A manager cannot supervise the activities of the unlimited number of people. It is an important principle that states that there should be manageable number of subordinates under one superior. Knowing span of control is necessary because managers/executives have limited both time and ability. The span of control refers to the number of subordinates a manager can supervise effectively.
i. Span of management (or span of control) implies the number of subordinates a superior can manage (or control) effectively. It is a key determinant of complexity of manager’s job, the number of managers required, and the shape (or structure) of the organisation.
ii. Span of control (or span of management) refers to the number of subordinates who can be effectively controlled (or managed) by a superior. It also denotes the number of subordinates who report to a superior.
ii. Span of control (or span of management) refers to the number of subordinates who directly report to the superior, or the number of subordinates that a superior can manage effectively.
Factors Determining Span of Management
Following factors determine a proper span of management:
i. Capacity of Superior
Capacity of a manager to manage, i.e., planning and decision making, leading and motivating, communicating, controlling, etc., affects the span of management. Obviously, a manager with more managerial capacity can manage more subordinates in a given situation. In the same way, a manager’s attitudes and personality aspects do affect the span of management.
ii. Capacity of Subordinates
Efficient and trained subordinates discharge their functions efficiently without much help of their subordinates. They only need broad guidelines. In such a case, the span may be larger because a superior will be required to devote less time in managing them. Similarly, changes in subordinates make span narrower.If a superior is going to direct the work of his subordinates, he must know what the jobs are and how they are performed and must possess the information on the state of work in and around them. Consequently, the superior’s task is much simpler when his subordinates do similar and identical work, and his span would be wider. The rate of change in work also affects the span. It determines the degree to which policies can be formulated and stability of formulated policies maintained. Low rate of changes provides scope for wider span of management. The types of technology used also affect the span. For example, in mass production and assembly lines, span of management tends to be much wider as compared to unit or small batch production.
iii. Degree of Centralization
Degree of centralization (or decentralisation) affect the degree of the superior’s involvement in decision-making. The rule is: The higher the degree of decentralisation, the higher is the span of management, and vice versa. In a centralized working pattern, a superior is required to spare more time and energy as subordinates require frequent and considerable consultation, clarification, instruction, etc., and the span of management contracts.
iv. Degree of Planning
When subordinates perform the perfectly planned (or well-planned) activities, i.e.. rules, policies, procedures, methods, schedules, and so forth are decided clearly and completely, a superior’s task reduces considerably. As against non-planned activities, well-planned activities expand the span of control. When everything is clearly laid down, subordinates can carry out their assignments without a direct assistance of their superior, and, consequently, the superior can manage more subordinates.
v. Communication Techniques
As against a face-to-face personal communication, the use of staff assistance with electronic media (like phone, fax, e-mail, intercom, and so forth) can expand the span of control. Personal communication requires a superior to spare more time and it decreases the span of control.
vi. Use of Staff Assistance
Use of staff assistance in reducing the work-load of managers enables them to manage more number of subordinates. Many of the managerial functions can be discharged by these staff personnel on behalf of the managers. They can collect information, process communications, and issue orders and instruction on behalf of their superior. This process saves time of managers and the degree of span can be increased.
vii. Supervision from others
Classical theory suggests that each person should have only one superior; however, the trend is changing and organisational members receive some sort of supervision form other managers in the organisation, such as staff personnel. Where subordinate receive supervision form superiors other than their immediate superiors, span can be wider.
The analysis of various factors affecting span of management suggests that there cannot be any fixed number of subordinates under one superior. While deciding span, one must take into account all these factors in totality.