What is Span of Control? (SOC), Types, Factors Affecting

  • Post last modified:12 May 2022
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What is Span of Control?

The span of control refers to the number of people that a manager can directly control. The span of control in the words of Haimann and Scott, is the number of subordinates who can be effectively supervised and managed.

The span of control when taken in the context of the ‘organisational structure levels of hierarchy’, can be described in terms of width, i.e., a wide span of control or a narrow span of control. In the wide Span of Control, several people work under the direct supervision of a manager. On the other hand, in the narrow span of control, fewer people report to a manager.

The span of control in the organisational structure depends on the number of employees that can be supervised or controlled by managers. Ideally, the number of employees working under one supervisor should be 15-20 subordinates.

The span of control can also be represented by the height of the organisational structure, i.e., levels of management or hierarchy. The organisational structure can be of two forms:

Tall structures: Tall structures have a narrow span of control. In this form of structure, the supervisor has less number of people reporting to him. He can monitor their activities well and have better and tighter control over their activities. This form of organisational structure is found in bureaucratic organisations.

Flat structures: Flat structures have a wide span of control. These structures come with lesser levels of hierarchy in the organisational structure and the manager has a large number of people reporting to him.

Some factors that affect the span of control are as follows:

  • Capacity of the manager
  • Nature of work
  • Skills of the employee
  • Method of communication
  • Level of planning and organising
  • Supervision from others
  • Using other resources and assistance

According to Peterson and Plowman, Span of control refers to the maximum number of subordinates which may be placed under the jurisdiction of one executive immediately superior to them.


Types of Span of Control

Narrow Span of Control

The narrow span of control has a lesser number of workers to be supervised by the manager. It leads to creating taller structures that have more number of management levels. An important aspect of narrow span of control is that the work done by the employees requires specialisation along with effective monitoring and tighter control.

Since there are more levels of management, it leads to communication getting distorted that affects the coordination amongst the departments and its employees. This ultimately leads to more overhead costs and ineffective response time. Figure 1 shows a narrow span of control:

Advantages of Narrow Span of Control

The advantages of a narrow span of control are as follows:

  • Allows faster and better communication between managers and employees

  • Ensures better control for the managers over the employees

  • Provides effective and immediate feedback of ideas from the workers

  • Requires a higher level of management skill to control a greater number of employees

  • Managers can work efficiently with a lesser number of employees without being overstressed

Limitations of Narrow Span of Control

  • There are more levels of management and therefore more expensive for the enterprise in terms of labour costs.

  • There is a lack of coordination due to slower decisions making between different workers in different departments.

  • Employees are closely monitored and supervised which affects their morale and confidence levels.

  • There are greater number of organisational levels that results in creating a distance between the senior management and the workforce. Hence it becomes difficult for employees to approach the higher levels.

  • The top management is not aware of the problems of the employees due to the levels of hierarchy.

Wide Span of Control

The wide span of control is used by managers to supervise and control more people at one time. The wider span of control has fewer levels of management and a lesser number of steps in the structure of the organisation, thus creating a flatter structure.

The flatter structure of management is effective with standardised activities and tasks. Employees are specialised and competent and do not require much supervision. There is better communication among employees lead- ing to enhanced productivity and performance. Figure 2 shows a wide span of control:

Advantages of Wide Span of Control

The advantages of a wide span of control are as follows:

  • It is cost-effective and less expensive since the manager has lesser employees reporting to him.

  • All the employees work under a single manager.

  • Quicker decisions and faster actions can be taken.

  • Employees are more confident due to lesser control and supervision.

  • Employees have the freedom to work and more creative.

Limitations of Wide Span of Control

The limitations of a wide span of control are as follows:

  • It has ineffective levels of communication and is time-consuming.

  • Employees feel demotivated since it results in fewer opportunities for promotion.

  • It is difficult for the manager to monitor and control the activities of all the employees.

  • Inefficiency in job performance due to incorrect decisions taken by employees.

  • It brings down the productivity levels of employees.

Factors Affecting Span of Control

Ability of subordinates

When the subordinates are enough competent to complete the allotted work easily, the manager will not be required to give more attention to them and more subordinates can be supervised. But, when if subordinates are less competent, the manager will be required to devote more time for supervision and span of control will be narrow.

Degree of delegation

A manager who delegates more authority of taking decisions to his subordinates can supervise a greater number of subordinates and enlarge the span of control. But, if a manager keeps more authority of taking decisions with him can supervise a small number of subordinates.

Capability of supervisor

The qualities and qualifications of the supervisor affect the span of control to a great extent. If the supervisor is competent enough, he can easily supervise a large number of employees and span of control can be wider. In case when supervisor is new, less competent and has less administrative ability, the span of control will be narrow.

Age of the organization

The span of control is wider in old organizations than in newer organizations because in old organizations things get stabilized.

Nature of work

As the work is more routine, the span of control can be wide. The similarity and simplicity of functions can be tackled easily while if work is of complex nature, the supervisor‟s span of control will be narrow. So, nature of work determines the span of control.

Geographical Dispersion

If branches of a business are widely dispersed, then the manager will find it difficult to supervise each of them, as such the span on control will be smaller. A manager can supervise easily the work of a large number of subordinates, if they are located in one compact place.

Techniques of supervision

Supervision Techniques such as delegation, planning, programming, the use of staff specialists, etc., help extend a manager‟s span of control.

Span of control can be extended where the direction of operations is done more by goals and objectives rather than by an ever-present supervisor.Also, an administrator can broaden his span of control by the use of staff specialists who can provide another set of legs, eyes and ears for the executive.

Communication system

A well organized and sensitive proper communication system in an organization will make possible a larger span of control than power and ill-organized system of communication.

Use of standing plans

It reduces the workload of managers, as a result span of control increases considerably.

Use of communication technology

In modern times, because of the use of automation in administration, of control has widened. Further, the application of mechanization to such activities as accounting and computation work had increased the span of control.

Level of management

The higher the superior is in the organizational hierarchy, the narrower the span of control. Based on empirical studies, Newman suggested that executives in higher echelons should have a span of three to seven operating subordinates, whereas the optimum range for first-line supervisors of routine activities is usually from fifteen to twenty employees.

There are other factors such as well-defined authority and responsibility; availability of staff services; economic restrictions; superior-subordinates relationship; degree of centralization; a financial position of the organization; clarity of plans and responsibilities etc which also affect the span of control.


Management Topics

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