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Managing People - Span of Control

Author: Jim Riley  Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012

People management - Span of control

The span of control is the number of subordinates for whom a manager is directly responsible.  The two diagrams below illustrate two different spans of control:

Span of control - example 1

A span of control of 7 would be considered to be quite wide. Contrast this with a span of 3 below, which would be considered “narrow”

Span of control - example 2

Is there an ideal span of control?  The answer is generally no – a suitable span of control will depend upon a number of factors:

  • The experience and personality of the manager
  • The nature of the business. If being a line manager requires a great deal of close supervision, then a narrower span might be appropriate
  • The skills and attitudes of the employees. Highly skilled, professional employees might flourish in a business adopting wide spans of control
  • The tradition and culture of the organisation. A business with a tradition of democratic management and empowered workers may operate wider spans of control

Should spans of control be wide or narrow?  Here is a summary of the relative advantages and disadvantages of each:

Narrow Span of Control

Wide Span of Control

Allows for closer supervision of employees 

Gives subordinates the chance for more independence

More layers in the hierarchy may be required 

More appropriate if labour costs are significant – reduce number of managers 

Helps more effective communication 

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